Montana: Groups sue to force restoration after logging finished


Montana News
Associated Press

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) Conservation groups are suing the Forest Service, seeking to force the agency to do cleanup and restoration work after loggers finish taking trees in a planned salvage timber sale.

The groups say they are not opposing the salvage sale, but merely want to make sure that the Forest Service follows through on its obligation to restore the logged area.

“We’ve bent over backward to allow the timber salvage to move forward,” said Keith Hammer, chair of the Swan View Coalition. “All we ask is that the road reclamation and watershed restoration work comply with the forest plan and be allowed to create more new jobs. What exactly is the Forest Service’s problem?”

At issue are lands burned in the 2001 Moose Fire, which swept across about 35,000 acres of Flathead National Forest north of Columbia Falls before jumping into Glacier National Park.

As part of the Flathead Forest Plan to salvage log the area, land managers propose reopening a road on the north side of Big Mountain and leaving 10 culverts in place on decommissioned roads.

Conservationists say that would break a forest plan put in place to protect endangered bull trout, grizzly bears and other wildlife.

By relaxing those standards, the groups say, the Forest Service is violating its own policies and endangering sensitive species.

Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Wildlands CPR also joined the lawsuit.

Hammer said he is especially concerned about Big Creek, a key bull trout spawning stream which has been listed by the State of Montana as “impaired” since 1992 due to logging and road building. Big Creek is also listed by the Flathead National Forest as “functioning at unacceptable risk” due to too many roads.

Hammer said decommissioning more than 57 miles of roads to better restore the Big Creek watershed would create even more jobs for the local economy.

“Following the forest plan is not arbitrary,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “The Flathead has an obligation to make sure that water quality, fish and wildlife habitat are protected.”

The lawsuit filed Tuesday also claims the forest officials have failed to establish a legally required public information program on the positive effects of road closures for fish and wildlife, water quality and other forest resources, as well as the purported economic benefits.

The groups say they never received a response from the Forest Service on a 60-day notice of intent to sue that was filed May 3.


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