AWR Blog

Taking on the Forest Service in Federal Court

Taking on the Forest Service in Federal Court

Bull trout. Image: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Forest Service plan to log old growth and bulldoze logging roads in bull trout critical habitat challenged in federal court

There’s so much wrong with this project, so many illegalities, omissions, and disregard for the foundational laws, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies had no choice but to try to take this project in southwest Montana to court due to its negative impacts on fish, wildlife and the forested landscape. But we could only take the Forest Service to court thanks to our members’ generous donations.  Thank you!

The sheer size, the fact that the logging, burning, and road-building are going to continue over many years, and the fact that the Forest Service completely ignored how all of this will affect our rapidly changing climatic conditions all add up to one very bad project.

Under the guise of reducing wildfire risks, Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor, Matt Anderson approved the Mud Creek Vegetation Management Project early last year. Over the course of 20 years the project would commercially log 13,700 acres, — including 4,800 acres of clearcuts in areas with mature and old growth forests — and would intentionally burn an additional 40,360 acres of National Forest lands.

To provide access for the deforestation, the project will bulldoze in about 43 miles of new roads, and 2.6 miles of new motorized trails. That means sediment from those roads, combined with the run-off from the logging and burning, will flow into western tributaries of the Bitterroot River, which is federally-designated critical habitat for bull trout.

Despite the enormous size of the project, the Forest Service did not disclose where the logging and burning would take place. That’s a significant concern and a blatant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act’s “look before you leap” requirement since the landscape and watersheds in this vast area provide a great diversity of essential wildlife habitat due to the broad range of existing native vegetation and a large un-roaded wildland area.

While whitebark pine was recently added to the Endangered Species List, the Forest Service has yet to receive authority from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move forward with the Project and has also failed to its duty to maintain and restore these vanishing trees as required by the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service plans to start commercial logging before even surveying where whitebark pine trees are to make sure they are not clearcutting them.

The name of this project says it all — Mud Creek — which is just what it will turn the tributaries and the Bitterroot into thanks to all the roading, logging, and sedimentation run-off.

The public has no idea how much sediment will flow into streams in the area which are designated bull trout critical habitat. Bull trout need cold, clean water. The sediment from bulldozing 43 miles of new roads with tens of thousands of log truck loads for 20 years could decimate critical habitat streams and bull trout.

In addition, the Forest Service used a site-specific amendment to its Forest Plan to re-define and minimize the importance of old growth, allowing logging of old growth forests and destroying their ever-more important role in carbon sequestration without even analyzing the impacts of such logging on wildlife, old growth forests or climate change.

Matthew Anderson, the Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest, lost a very similar court case when he was a District Ranger in Alaska. Anderson lost because he failed to take the legally-required “hard look” at impacts of the Alaska logging project as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Yet, here he is, promoted to a Supervisor position and continues to violate the law.

The Bitterroot National Forest, the Bitterroot River, and the fish, wildlife and big game belong to all Americans. That we have to take this to federal court is unfortunate, but apparently that’s what it takes to make the agency and Supervisor Anderson comply with our laws, just like the rest of us have to do every day.

Please consider donating to the Alliance for the Wild Rockies to help us fight to protect habitat for native fish and wildlife.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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