Blankenship Vegetation Project Update

You may remember thisblankenship-veg-project project from this post, in which I asked for volunteers to learn about it. No one ever volunteered, but here we are. The project apparently treats 1100 acres in the 40K acre project area.

I still think it would be better policy if we had an open dialogue with folks like AWR about why AWR thought there were lynx and why they thought the project would hurt them with the rest of us able to read the FS documents and chime in. It would have been interesting and a learning experience for everyone. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a policy experiment that before any (fuels treatment?) project (less than 2000 acres?), future plaintiffs were required to engage in a public discussion about their claims? It seems like it would be a more open and transparent process… and at the end of the day the lawsuit could still be brought so no legal rights would be violated (as far as I can tell.)

Here’s the link to the Great Falls Tribune article:

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris has sided with Lewis and Clark National Forest in a lawsuit brought by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies to block a forest logging/prescribed fire project in the Little Belt Mountains to address aging stands of timber.

The Alliance alleged in the February 2014 lawsuit that the forest violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act when it approved the Blankenship Vegetation Treatment Project.

The lawsuit said the Forest Service’s finding of “no adverse effects” for lynx was flawed.

The Forest Service said it is possible lynx move through the area, but the habitat isn’t considered occupied.

In a decision Monday, the judge ruled in favor of the forest’s motion for summary judgment, finding the agency had complied with the law on each of the seven points raised in the lawsuit.

The court’s decision notes that “summary judgment is appropriate if no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

“This is one of those projects that has taken a couple of years and has consumed hundreds of hours of staff time to move through the appeal and litigation process,” Forest Supervisor Bill Avey said in a news release. “The court’s decision validates the hard work that those employees did to get the project to this point and now we look forward to restoring resource conditions and improving public safety by getting to work out on the ground.”

The project area encompasses about 40,700 acres in the Dry Fork of Belt Creek Drainage of the Little Belt Mountains. Within that area, roughly 1,100 acres would be treated using a mix of commercial harvesting, pre-burn slashing and thinning and prescribed fire.

The Dry Fork of Belt Creek is a popular forest recreation area and is considered to be at high risk of wildfire due to the current vegetative conditions including mortality from the mountain pine beetle, lack of defensible space adjacent to private land inholdings, and natural fuel conditions that could result in large scale wildfire, according to the Forest Service.

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