Dubois, ID – The Targhee National Forest withdrew the Berry Creek Prescribed Burn project on December 9, 2008 in response to a lawsuit filed by two conservation groups, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council. The conservation groups filed a lawsuit March 19, 2008 in Federal District Court in Boise against the U.S. Forest Service asking the court to declare the Targhee National Forest Revised Forest Plan’s sage brush management illegal. The Targhee Forest’s Berry Creek prescribed burn project is approximately 23 miles north of Dubois, Idaho and 3 miles west of Interstate 15, a project that would involve burning of 1200 acres of sagebrush.
Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “This case was a continuation of the dispute over the adequacy of the Targhee National Forest Revised Forest Plan. In September of 2005, Federal District Court Judge Winmill ruled the old-growth provisions in the revised 1997 Targhee National Forest Plan invalid, due in part to the failure to consider the relationship between old-growth habitat and species viability. For similar reasons, the Berry Creek case challenged the sagebrush habitat provisions of the revised forest plan. The Berry Creek Prescribed Burn was not in compliance with the National Forest Management Act’s species diversity provision. This law requires the Forest Service to ensure that their management activities do not kill all of the native species. In the Berry Creek project, the Forest Service’s own experts say it would.”
Garrity concluded, “This project was yet another example of the Forest Service wanting to use our tax dollars to destroy critical wildlife habitat and in this case for no another reason but to grow more grass for cows. We are happy the Forest Service agreed to withdraw this illegal project rather than waste the court’s time.”
Dr. Sara Johnson, a former wildlife biologist for the Targhee National Forest and Director of Native Ecosystems Council said, “Extensive burning of sagebrush was approved by the Targhee’s Revised Forest Plan, and Berry Creek was the first such project to implement that strategy. The Berry Creek Project area lies within known occupied sage grouse habitat in Idaho. This species is highly dependent upon dense sagebrush habitat for nesting, and moderately-dense sagebrush habitat and forbs for brood-rearing habitat. Direct impacts to the sage grouse will be significant because of previous sagebrush burning projects in the Berry Creek Project area.”
Dr. Johnson said, “Sagebrush habitats have been identified by the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the Forest Service as a habitat that is in jeopardy in the western United States. 57 species of mammals and 121 species of birds use sagebrush ecosystems on the Targhee National Forest. Loss of sagebrush habitats is due mainly to intentional burning on public lands to increase forage for livestock, a loss which can be permanent by replacement of sagebrush with exotic cheatgrass. This Project directly contradicts recommended measures by the Forest Service’s research branch to protect sagebrush habitats from fire and to restore previously-degraded habitats, including those that have been converted to the alien cheatgrass species as a result of fire.”
Dr. Johnson said, “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has found that half of all sagebrush habitats have been eliminated, and the other half has already been altered. Once lost to fire, it takes many decades for sagebrush habitat to return, if at all.”
Dr. Johnson concluded, “Sagebrush ecosystems are associated with more biological diversity than any other kind of habitat on the Targhee National Forest, and two sensitive species would have been affected by burning, the sage grouse (a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act) and the pygmy rabbit. Other sensitive species that will be harmed by this project include the Brewer’s sparrow.”