by Laura Lundquist, Chronicle Staff Writer
Much of the Gallatin National Forest is lynx and grizzly bear habitat, so two environmental groups are suing to stop salvage logging in and around the area damaged in last year’s Millie Fire.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed for an injunction Tuesday in a Missoula federal court, claiming that the U.S. Forest Service erred in not going through an environmental analysis before approving the Millie Roadside Hazard Tree Removal Project.
The Forest Service used a “categorical exclusion” rule to avoid carrying out a study of the effects of logging under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The environmental groups claim the logging operation doesn’t qualify for a categorical exclusion because of the endangered species that likely use the area.
The Millie Project would authorize timber removal along 15 miles of public roads and roads that the Forest Service maintained only for administrative use.
An additional 180 acres away from roads were initially proposed for logging, but that proposal was tabled because the Forest Service didn’t have the resources to do the work.
AWR executive director Mike Garrity said he is concerned that the project would leave the door open for logging that 180 acres at a later date.
The public was given 30 days to comment on the proposal, starting Jan. 20.
“We’d be concerned even if they were only logging along the roads because 200 feet on either side of the road means 450 feet of clear cut for 15 miles,” Garrity said. “We understand that roads need to be safe for the public but some of these roads aren’t public.”
The lawsuit includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a defendant because the agency concurred with the project on Feb. 28, saying it was not likely to affect grizzly bears, lynx or their habitat.
The lawsuit asks the court to stop the Millie Project and declare it illegal.
The AWR has already sued the FWS for failing to identify and protect lynx habitat in the Northern Rocky Mountains.
Last summer, the Millie Fire burned more than 10,000 acres in the Storm Castle Creek drainage of the Gallatin National Forest. The hot fire caused severe damage to much of the vegetation.