AWR Blog

contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

Plans to log nearly 700 acres of the visually spectacular and topographically dramatic Crazy Mountains have been halted by a federal court order because the project would violate Forest Service hiding cover standards for elk. The Smith Creek Timber Sale, proposed for an area that has been filmed as the backdrop for Hollywood movies, such as The Horse Whisperer, was put on hold when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, and Sharon Hapner, a local resident who owns a cabin in the proposed logging area.

Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the September 15th ruling found that the timber sale project was illegal because the Forest Service violated its own requirement to maintain two thirds of the forest as hiding cover for elk.

“The court’s order stops the entire timber sale indefinitely,” Garrity explained. “The Forest Service has already clearcut 4,800 acres in the area, which equates to about one-third of the project area. Consequently, the agency can’t comply with the Forest Plan standards for elk hiding cover in a forest that has already been so heavily clearcut. This kind of forest destruction may be the norm on Plum Creek lands, but it’s simply not legal on our publicly-owned National Forests.”

Dr. Sara Johnson, a former wildlife biologist for the Gallatin National Forest and Director of Native Ecosystems Council added that the record for this case “clearly showed that the existing cover is sparse and inadequate for normal, healthy elk migration. The elk trying to move through the area feel so insecure that they try to quickly sneak through at night in small, dispersed groups. Obviously, removing even more hiding cover for these already-stressed animals would have been unacceptable.”

Local resident and co-Plaintiff Sharon Hapner summed it up: “My primary concern has always been the health and preservation of the forest ecosystem and I will continue to work toward that end in any way possible. I have been privileged to partner with the Alliance and the Council who also support that goal.”

“Our state is justifiably world famous for its elk hunting,” Garrity concluded. “The long Montana tradition of maintaining healthy elk herds requires intact ecosystems and sufficient forest cover. It’s unfortunate we have to take the Forest Service to court to force them to follow the law, but we can either cut down forests for a non-existent timber market or preserve our elk herds. Given the consequences, we had to appeal the logging and I’m sure most Montanans would agree.”

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