Judge Molloy’s opinion on Colt Summit link here.
Article in Missoulian here.
Here’s an excerpt:
“The plaintiffs in this case insist the Forest Service’s cumulative effects analysis for lynx is inadequate. On this point they are correct. On remand the Forest Service must prepare a supplemental (environmental assessment) that adequately addresses the cumulative effects for lynx, and if necessary after that review, an (environmental impact statement).”
The project was heralded earlier this year as the model for a new kind of collaborative forest management, where lumber mills and conservation groups work in concert with the U.S. Forest Service on tasks everyone agrees are needed.
Colt-Summit’s backers included Pyramid Mountain Lumber, the Wilderness Society, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and two retired chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service.
Molloy’s decision blocked the 2,000 acres of logging and 17 miles of roadwork, but Megan Birzell of the Wilderness Society, a supporter of the plan, told the Missoulian last month that the judge’s finding was not a major setback because of his concurrent finding that the project passed muster under the Endangered Species Act.
“The judge said it won’t have an impact on lynx, but the Forest Service needs to beef up their analysis to better document that,” she said.
The plaintiffs argued that the project area serves as a corridor for lynx that move between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountains. Molloy said this does not appear to be the case.
The Forest Service relies on GPS tracking data that show lynx do not use the project area as a corridor to travel between the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountains, he wrote, but instead cross Highway 83 south of the project.
“This means the project area is probably not an ‘ecologically critical area’ based on its use by the lynx as a linkage corridor,” according to his opinion.
The Forest Service now must prepare a supplemental environmental assessment, and is enjoined from implementing the Colt Summit project while the assessment is pending.
Note from Sharon: I’m going to take a look at the decision because it should be interesting exactly what kind of more cumulative impacts the judge is looking for.
This article says there are 2,000 acres of “logging”; again I have posted above the table that shows the acres. 1200 are “understory slashing with underburning”. Now it’s true I’m not from Montana but usually, where I’m from, “understory” is not merchantable, hence not “logging” as defined in the dictionary. Commercial thinning (selective logging) seems to be on about 600 acres.
One piece of evidence that this is confusing is that the reporter said:
The National Environmental Policy Act has been a regular stumbling block for Forest Service timber projects. It requires a variety of scientific reviews to ensure a project doesn’t hurt the environment.
This isn’t really clear that NEPA “allows” the project to hurt the environment; ESA here is the statute that protects the environment. NEPA requires documentation that you have considered the impacts; it’s a procedural statute. That’s what’s confusing, yet illuminating, about this decision (it seems to be saying, “you have made the case you’re not in violations of any environmental statutes but you haven’t documented as much as NEPA requires”).
It could be that the plaintiffs are hoping that the FS will provide additional documentation so that they can make the case that there is really an ESA violation. Because it seems like it raises the question “is this about not following ESA, or about making people do more documentation, and to what end?”
4 thoughts on “Opinion on Colt Summit Published”
Sharon says, “[W]hat’s confusing, yet illuminating, about this decision (it seems to be saying, ‘you have made the case you’re not in violations of any environmental statutes but you haven’t documented as much as NEPA requires’).”
I think not. NEPA is procedural (at least that’s the way the courts have interpreted it). Maybe you intended to say that “your’e not in violation of any environmental statutes except NEPA.” In any case, I too need to read the decision.
Good point, I meant “non-procedural” environmental statutes, but I forgot the word “substantive” while I was writing the post and had to look it up. Legal is not my native tongue.
Isn’t NEPA fun!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 12, 2012
CONTACT: Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies 406 459-5936
Steve Kelly, Alliance for the Wild Rockies 406 886-2011
COLT SUMMIT TIMBER SALE PROJECT HALTED
Calling it “a great win for the lynx,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, announced that Federal District Judge Donald W. Molloy released his full order halting the Colt Summit Timber Sale on the Seeley Lake Ranger District on July 11th. “The court found that the US Forest Service is not protecting or restoring a very special and sensitive animal across its range in Montana,” Garrity said. “Consequently, Judge Molloy remanded the project to the Forest Service for further analysis since it must consider whether any site specific project does so before authorizing it.”
The Federal Court first halted the project on June 20th and said the full order would follow.
“Judge Molloy agreed with us that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the project’s cumulative impacts on the lynx, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” Garrity explained. “Judge Molloy enjoined the timber sale and wrote in his order the ‘…Forest Service must prepare a supplemental EA that adequately addresses the cumulative effects for lynx, and if necessary after that review, an EIS.’”
Friends of the Wild Swan, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, and Montana Ecosystems Defense Council brought the lawsuit against the Lolo National Forest and were represented by Matt Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center. Importantly, the groups did not challenge the road reclamation work associated with the project, but focused on the effects to lynx.
“We are pleased that the court recognized that the analysis of effects to lynx by the Forest Service was inadequate,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “We continue to believe this area is a critical wildlife linkage corridor between the Swan Range in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area to the east and the Mission Mountains Wilderness Area to the west. It was designated as lynx critical habitat and deserves extra protection.”
“This project was very controversial because it was supported by groups and individuals associated with the Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative,” Garrity explained. “But although the Montana Wilderness Association, the National Wildlife Federation and the Wilderness Society claimed they were heavily involved in the development of the project, the project records gave no indication of that. The project was proposed by the Forest Service and then supported by those groups — despite the fact that there were no discussions of the impacts to lynx between the collaborators and the Forest Service.”
George Wuerthner, an independent ecologist, author, and photographer, recently flew over Colt Summit to photograph the area. “I was shocked to see how much of the Seeley-Swan Valley is already logged that is not readily visible from the main highway or even by driving back roads,” Wuerthner said. “The problem for the Forest Service is that they are up against limits. You can’t continue to cut more and more of the valley without jeopardizing other values. There is such a thing as cumulative impacts and death by a thousand cuts.”