Two conservation groups filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula District Court on Tuesday for authorizing logging on 11,000 acres in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, including habitat for endangered species.
In the lawsuit, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, based in Missoula, and Native Ecosystems Council, located in Three Forks, contend the Forest Service’s approval of the North Hebgen Project was arbitrary and capricious and represents an abuse of discretion.
The project includes commercial and non-commercial logging, including up to 908 acres of potential old-growth forest. It also includes 15.6 miles of temporary road construction.
According to the suit, areas identified in the project serve as the home range for a number of grizzly bears. Over a period of seven years, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team documented 31 locations from seven individual bears, including two females and five males.
“During implementation, the project will reduce secure habitat for grizzly bears within the Madison Bear Management Unit,” the suit contends. “This project could also increase the risk of individual grizzly bear mortality during project implementation due to a greater potential for human-bear conflicts resulting from increased human presence in the project area.”
The plaintiffs also say the project would impact elk and lynx, the latter listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Mature forests are critical for lynx protection and reproduction, and logging those forests would reduce that habitat.
The project proposes logging 1,582 acres mapped as lynx habitat, according to the suit, and it would serve to reduce hiding cover for elk, increasing their vulnerability during hunting season.
“This would be most likely to occur during rifle hunting season,” the suit states. “Prolonged loss of hiding cover on Fir Ridge may (also) cause elk to alter their migration routes to avoid this area in the fall.”
The suit names Regional Forester Leanne Marten and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants.