Montana: Groups sue to force restoration after logging finished
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
“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.