The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has announced it’s logging agreement with Plum Creek Timber Co (now Weyerhaeuser) on 111,740 acres of national forest land in Montana has been terminated after a Federal Court ruled the logging done by TNC on Forest Service lands was illegal.
The public was notified of this in the Flathead National Forest’s draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Chilly James Project in Montana’s Swan Valley. The Chilly James Draft Decision Notice stated that on January 5, 2016, The Nature Conservancy notified the Forest Service that their logging agreement with Plum Creek was terminated and that they have no future logging plans on Montana Legacy acquisition lands.
Last summer, the federal district court in Montana reaffirmed and clarified its September 2014 ruling that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved logging procedures for 111,740 acres of newly-acquired national forest lands. The Court’s ruling requires the Forest Service to halt logging until it complies with both the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act requirements to analyze “potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives, and cumulative impacts on those lands” and “comply with the consultation requirements of Section 7 of the ESA with respect to those protected species affected on the lands.”
These so-called “Legacy Lands” in Montana’s Swan Valley were former Plum Creek Timber Co. lands which were purchased by the federal government and are now part of the national forest and subject to federal laws that protect the environment and threatened or endangered species. These lands are critical habitat for grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine, bull trout, and a very rare plant called water howellia.
TNC bought these lands from Plum Creek Timber in 2008. A condition of the agreement called for TNC to sell Plum Creek Timber 92 million board feet of timber off its former lands over the next 10 years, a condition carried over even though the public then purchased the lands from TNC via a $250 million tax credit to TNC.
Four conservation groups Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit in 2013 in Federal District Court challenging the logging by The Nature Conservancy on these former Plum Creek lands.
“It’s good to know The Nature Conservancy won’t be logging any more of the few trees Plum Creek left on these lands,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of Swan View Coalition. “It’s time for the Forest Service to now turn the page and begin restoring these industrial lands to a more natural state by removing a substantial number of the logging roads that came with them.”
“Since the Agreed Operating Procedures between the Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy were deemed illegal by the court it is right and appropriate that the logging agreement is terminated,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “This protects what’s left of the trees in riparian areas and old cutting units on these heavily logged and roaded lands and allows wildlife habitat to be restored.”
“The U.S. Forest Service authorized logging procedures and thousands of acres of clearcutting on these lands without any analysis of how the logging might affect and harm endangered species in the area,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Of particular concern to local conservationists is the lynx, a rare forest cat that requires large expanses of unlogged area for survival. The Swan Valley is one of the best potential habitats in the Lower 48 states for lynx, but lynx are declining in the area due to logging.”
“The bottom line,” Garrity concluded, “is very good news for the threatened and endangered species that call these lands home, since all commercial logging on these ‘Legacy Lands’ by The Nature Conservancy has stopped. The American people paid $250 million for these lands. The Nature Conservancy should not have been allowed to continue clearcutting land they no longer owned.”