More waiting is in store on a logging project south of Bozeman.
A Ninth Circuit Court judge ordered this week that an existing stay on the case will continue until the U.S. Supreme Court decides what to do with a separate case dealing with the same issue — a dispute over the Forest Service’s analysis of critical habitat for Canada lynx, a cat listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
That all means that the Bozeman Municipal Watershed logging project, thousands of acres of logging in the Hyalite and Bozeman Creek drainages first proposed by the U.S. Forest Service in 2010, will remain on hold.
Steve Kelly, of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the decision was good news for the community because it meant there would be “one more summer of peace” in the Hyalite and Sourdough areas.
Lisa Stoeffler, the Bozeman district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said the issue in the management plan — which has been the subject of a number of recent timber sale lawsuits — needs a resolution.
“We certainly understand that this is a bigger issue than us,” she said.
The issue is whether the Forest Service erred by not consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and revising their Canada lynx management plan after critical habitat had been designated for the cat.
The Canada lynx lives in mountain ranges and munches on snowshoe hares. It has large, furry paws that allow it to travel on snow with ease. Montana is one of a handful of states in the lower 48 where the cats can be found.
Critical habitat for the animals was designated after the Forest Service had crafted a management plan for them, and the plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim the Forest Service needed to revise their management plans to reflect that.
In the case of the suit over the Bozeman watershed project, a federal district judge agreed and halted the logging project.
The other suit didn’t deal with any specific logging project. In that case, the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center went after the Forest Service in Montana as a whole, arguing that because the agency had failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, any action could have negative impacts on the animal’s habitat.
Stoeffler said the agency believes it should consult the USFWS on a project-specific basis to determine if lynx will be harmed by an action rather than do so in the management plan, which offers broader guidelines for the agency’s decisions.
But a district court agreed with the law center. And, on appeal, so did the Ninth Circuit. Now, the Forest Service has appealed to the Supreme Court, and it is waiting to find out if the high court will take up the case.
Kelly said he doesn’t think the court will hear the case because it doesn’t deal with any constitutional issues and doesn’t illustrate a conflict between two circuit courts.
“The main factors just don’t exist in this case,” Kelly said.
Stoeffler said the issue expands beyond lynx and could be translated to any other species, so the dispute needs to be resolved.
“It has to get sorted out and the place that gets it sorted out is at the Supreme Court level,” she said.
That decision is expected to be months away, perhaps not until the court returns from its summer recess in September.
The Bozeman Municipal Watershed case is also linked to a case on the East Boulder River, which halted another timber sale.
Michael Wright can be reached at email@example.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.