by Karl Puckett, Tribune Staff Writer
Two environmental groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service over a 345-acre timber sale in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, charging the logging project will harm elk and goshawk habitat.
“It will have to go through litigation and we’ll see who prevails,” said Steve Martin, a Harlowton-based timber management officer for the forest. “Meanwhile, there are copious amounts of trees dying.”
The intent of the logging project, which is proposed 15 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, is to thin Douglas fir stands and ward off bark beetle infestation, Martin said.
The Newlan Bugs Timber Sale will be postponed while the lawsuit is dealt with, Martin said.
“Goshawks are an old-growth dependent species, whose population is declining on the Lewis and Clark National Forest,” said Sara Johnson, director of the Native Ecosystems Council, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
Native Ecosystems Council and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in federal court in Missoula. The suit seeks to stop the timber sale.
The logging is planned in the only goshawk nesting territory with confirmed nestlings in the White Sulphur Springs Ranger District, said Johnson, a former wildlife biologist for the Gallatin National Forest.
Just 17 known goshawk nests exist in the 1.7 million-acre Lewis and Clark Forest, said Johnson, who accused the Forest Service of lying when it released a decision memo stating that no goshawk nests exist in the project area.
Goshawk nesting activity was last documented in spring 2007, Martin said.
“There’s no direct effect to the nest stands,” Martin said. “They’re a ways away from any of the treatments.”
Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the forest is violating its own rules on elk habitat by proposing to construct 1.4 miles of temporary road. The remaining secure elk habit in the drainage is just 600 acres, he said, adding that the Newland Creek watershed already has high road density.
The groups’ members also take issue with the Forest Service using a provision in the law allowing certain timber projects to be excluded from the strictest environmental review.
In the Newlan project, a research exclusion is being used because officials are studying whether stand density reduction can stave off beetle attacks on Douglas firs, Martin said. Research has shown that reducing the density of stands is effective in warding off a similar species of beetle that attacks lodgepole and ponderosa trees, he said.
Garrity said the research exclusion is intended only for projects that include review by at least two nonfederal experts. In this case, he said, one nonfederal expert was consulted and the comments weren’t reviewed by the district ranger or made public before the project was approved.
“The Forest Service is in too much of a rush to get the cut out if they can’t even wait to find out what scientists have to say about the project,” he said.
The two environmental groups also say the logging project could harm the soil because 1,000 acres previously were clear-cut.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council previously sued the Forest Service over a timber salvage sale northeast of White Sulphur Springs. That case is still in litigation, Martin said.