Gayle Joslin & Jim Posewitz , Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, (406) 449-2795
Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
April E. Johnston, Conservation Director, American Wildlands, (406) 586-8175 x106
Sarah K. McMillan, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 728-5096
Lawsuit charges US Forest Service is shirking its legal obligations
HELENA, MONTANA– A lawsuit was filed yesterday by the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, American Wildlands, and Native Ecosystems Council in Federal District Court in Missoula challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS’s) decision to approve a National Guard request to build a biathlon training facility in the middle of an important wildlife corridor on the Continental Divide, just west of Helena. The groups are represented by Sarah K. McMillan of the Western Environmental Law Center.
On June 12, 2008 the USFS authorized the building of the biathlon facility pursuant to a 25-year special use permit. Building the project will require the construction of a new access road, fifty-car parking lot, assorted buildings, shooting range, observation platform, new trail construction, and the widening of existing trails in an isthmus of National Forest land on the Continental Divide.
Hunters, anglers and conservationists contend that the USFS failed to adequately consider the impacts of the project on the wildlife corridor, violated the Forest Service’s soil protection standards, violated the Forest Plan’s standards for managing elk, moose, and lynx habitat, and violated Endangered Species Act requirements for protecting grizzly bears, wolves, and lynx
Jim Pozewitz, a board member of the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association stated that, “the USFS has left us no other option but to enter into litigation to protect critical wildlife habitat, values, and movement corridors on the Continental Divide.”
Posewitz concluded that, “to the best of our knowledge this is the first time in history that a Helena, Montana sportsman’s organization has felt it necessary to bring a legal challenge against a USFS decision in order to protect critical wildlife values.”
Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “The Forest Service is failing to follow their own rules for protecting elk summer and winter range. The Forest Plan says they can’t destroy elk habitat. The USFS needs to follow the law just like everybody else.”
April E. Johnston, Conservation Director for American Wildlands said, “The work of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Wildlands, and Wild Things Unlimited all indicate that this area of the Continental Divide is a crucial wildlife corridor. It is critical that this corridor remains intact to improve the chances that species like the Canada lynx can thrive in the face of increasing human development and climate change.”
Gayle Joslin, retired Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist said, “According to the best scientific data available – including information from federal, state, and private wildlife biologists – the site of the proposed military/biathlon project constitutes a crucial wildlife corridor or linkage area for Canada lynx, wolverine, grizzly bears, and serves as yearlong and seasonal habitat for elk, moose, and deer.”
Joslin explained, “The National Guard, with approval from the Helena National Forest, simply cannot put a 50 car parking lot, five buildings, electricity, miles of new trails, 16 stream crossings, and shooting range in this 1 1/2 mile wide strip of aspen, wetlands, and conifer habitats and still expect the area to meet the needs of wildlife.”
In describing the ‘sandwiched’ nature of this ground, Joslin noted, “With private land housing encroachment on the east, clearcuts and an uncertain future for private lands on the west, and Highway 12 bisecting the Continental Divide, this public land pinch-point cannot also absorb a biathlon installation and remain viable as a wildlife corridor.”
“The Lewis and Clark County Commission and the Western Governor’s Association have passed resolutions calling for conservation of wildlife movement corridors. The area in question certainly qualifies at the most vulnerable piece of the Helena National Forest along the Continental Divide wildlife corridor” Joslin concluded.
“We are simply asking the USFS to follow its own governing laws and standards in the Forest Plan,” said Sarah McMillan, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the Plaintiffs. “The Forest Service themselves designed these standards to maintain soil productivity, preserve habitat for elk and moose, and protect habitat connectivity for lynx.”