Photo courtesy of Lewis and Clark national forest
UPDATE: One of our generous readers offered a copy of the complaint here.
Based on this coverage in the Great Falls Independent paper, I am curious how the FS should have surveyed according to Garrity, and what they actually did.
“First, this case is about the Forest Service’s failure to use ‘best available science’ and properly survey for Canada lynx and report those survey results, and the agencies’ use of improper and inadequate survey results in the finding of ‘no adverse effects’ for lynx, in violation of the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act,” the lawsuit says.
Dave Cunningham, a spokesman for Lewis and Clark National Forest, said the forest has received widespread support for the Blankenship fuels treatment project. The project had been scheduled to be implemented this spring.
“At this point in the process, when a suit is filed, we need to stand down for a moment, study the complaint that has been filed, confer with our Office of General Council attorneys, and then based on their advice, take the next appropriate steps,” Cunningham said.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls against the U.S. Forest Service, Faye Krueger, regional forester for the agency’s Region 1 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Canada lynx, known for their distinctive facial ruff on each side of the snout, large round feet and black-tipped tails, are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The estimated population in Montana is 300, Garrity said.
The Forest Service issued a biological assessment in July concluding the project wasn’t likely to adversely impact lynx, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife concurred.
The Fish and Wildlife Service administers the Endangered Species Act.
If a listed or candidate species may be present, agencies must prepare a biological assessment to determine projects would harm them.
It is possible lynx move through the area, but the habitat isn’t considered occupied, according to the Forest Service, but the lawsuit disputes the methods used to reach that conclusion.
“Even the Forest Service previously determined that at least part of the forest is considered ‘occupied’ by lynx,” Garrity said. “So, from the best available present and past data, there is ample evidence to suggest that lynx may be present in the Little Belts and the Blankenship area.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks trapping records show 268 lynx were trapped in northcentral Montana, which includes the Little Belt Mountains, between 1959 and 1967, Garrity said.
It took me a while to find this site, which has everything you might possibly want to know, including appeal responses, which probably covered this topic.
Here’s what I picked up from a brief foray into Appendix II.
The project area is within secondary, unoccupied habitat (USDA Forest Service and USDI Fish and Wildlife Service 2006). There are historic sightings of lynx near the project area from 1979 to 1981, over 30 years ago. From 1981 to 1997 there are nine additional records in the Little Belt Mountains (see project file). These records do not meet the definition of a verified observation or record (USDA Forest Service 2007, pages 142 to 144). Telemetry data of lynx in Montana from Devineau (2010) is not presented at a scale conducive to determining exact locations, and the accuracy of the data varies widely (from 0.15 to 10.0 km). These records also do not meet the definition of a verified observation or record. There are no current sightings in the Little Belt Mountains. During fiscal year 2009, winter surveys were conducted in a portion of the Little Belt Mountains (including the Blankenship Project area). There were no lynx located during these surveys.
Informal consultation for the Blankenship Project was initiated by obtaining the THREATENED, ENDANGERED AND CANDIDATE SPECIES for the LEWIS AND CLARK NATIONAL FOREST 2/13/2012 species list from the Montana Field Office website at http://www.fws.gov/montanafieldoffice/Endangered_Species/Listed_Species/Forests/L&C_sp_list.pdf). Lynx is not included on the FWS species list for the Jefferson Division, nor is the Jefferson Division within designated critical habitat (USDI 2012). The effects of the Blankenship project on habitat for Canada lynx are disclosed in the Blankenship Vegetation Treatment Project Lynx Analysis Report, LAU LB4 (March 2012, project file). This project will have No Effect on lynx or designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
Would someone be willing to volunteer to learn about this project? (I assume we can’t talk directly to the FS folks due to litigation, as the story says). I’m sure someone here could get a copy of the complaint and the evidence Garrity cites, and we could figure out the two perspectives (plus add our own ;)).
Note: Any volunteers for Project Adoption don’t have to use their real names AND can contact me directly if they don’t feel comfortable announcing it to the world. Terraveritas at gmail.com.