We’re discussed the appropriate, or inappropriate, use of Categorical Exclusions (CE’s) by the Forest Service in the past (here and here). What about a CE for a 17,000 acre logging project that includes logging within Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, and old growth forests? Is a CE really an appropriate level of analysis and public input for such a project? Clearly some folks think not. The following is a press release from the Alliance for Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council. A copy of the complaint is here.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit on Friday in Federal District Court against the Forest Service to stop the Little Belt Mountain Hazard Tree Removal Project in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Forest Service plans to log 17,000 acres on National Forest Lands, including logging in Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, and old growth forests. The Forest Service authorized these activities under a Categorical Exclusion from the environmental analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Up until now the Forest Service has done a full environmental analysis on large roadside logging projects,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “We didn’t oppose the agency on those projects, but in this case the agency is excluding itself from the requirement to keep the public informed of the environmental effects and to provide public input on the proposal. Categorical Exclusions were intended for purposes such as mowing the lawn at the Ranger Station or painting outhouses, not logging over 17,000 acres.”
“Herbicide spraying and logging will occur in several already degraded watersheds and along several streams that are considered ‘impaired’ due to sediment,” Garrity explained. “These areas provide habitat for the westslope cutthroat trout and the Western toad, both are considered ‘sensitive species’ on the Forest and both will be impacted by logging – especially when you consider approximately 1,700 acres of logging and herbicide spraying will occur within 150 feet of streams. The result will be to dump more sediment into already degraded streams where these native fish are struggling to survive”.
“I have recently driven roads in the Little Belt Mountains and there is evidence of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, but it is in patches, not forest wide,” explained Sara Johnson, Director of Native Ecosystems Council and former Gallatin National Forest biologist. “Where the beetles have killed trees next to the road, firewood cutters have already done a good job cutting them down. It’s a mystery why the Forest Service wants to log 17,000 acres of so-called ‘hazardous trees’ when there isn’t a hazard. The only hazard will be to the native wildlife when 17,000 acres of important habitat is clearcut and to the taxpayers who have to pay for it.”
“There are already massive infestations of noxious weeds, such as thistle and houndstongue, along roads,” Johnson said. “They can’t control the weed problem now and logging will just make it worse.”
“The Canada lynx, listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act, has historical presence on the Forest including recent sightings in the project area. Lynx, wolverine, black-backed woodpecker, Northern goshawk, Western toad, and Northern three-toed woodpecker all are known to occur in the area and their numbers will be further reduced by these massive clearcuts,” concluded Johnson.
“We support logging to protect public safety,” Garrity said. “But the public needs to be kept informed to ensure that the Federal Government is following the law. The public needs to be shown that there is a real safety hazard and not just an imagined excuse for more subsidized logging.
“It is unfortunate that we have to ask the court to intervene to force the Federal Government to let the public be involved in the management of our National Forests, Garrity concluded. “But in the end, we firmly believe the public should have a say in the management of public lands…even if we have to go to court to get it.”