Conservation groups challenge clearcutting in Telegraph watershed that threatens elk, grizzly bear and lynx and violates the Roadless Areas Conservation Rule

The following press release is from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council. If anyone has any specific questions about this lawsuit, please direct those questions to the groups and people involved with the lawsuit. Thanks. – mk

Two conservation groups, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Missoula on Monday challenging the Telegraph Vegetation Project in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest about 5 miles south of Elliston, MT. The conservation groups contend the project threatens the area’s elk herds as well as federally protected grizzly bears and lynx and violate a number of federal laws.

Logging and road-building will impact elk, grizzly and lynx

“The Forest Service decision authorizes logging on 4,613 acres, including 300 acres of logging with 83 acres of clearcutting within the Jericho Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area,” explained Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

“Clearcutting is not forest restoration,” said Dr. Sara Jane Johnson, Ph.D. and former Gallatin National Forest wildlife biologist. “95% of forest species in the area would be hurt by bulldozing in over 10 miles of new logging roads to log and burn 1,989 acres of elk hiding cover in the Jericho Elk Herd Unit and 2,758 acres of hiding cover in the Spotted Dog – Little Blackfoot Elk Herd Unit. Despite the fact that the Forest Service conceded the project will displace elk, the agency plans to allow clearcutting in elk security areas in the middle of hunting season. By its own analysis, the agency admits this will drive elk out of public lands, onto private lands, resulting in less elk opportunities for hunters and impacting the ability of Montana’s wildlife managers to meet their elk population objectives.”

Agency ignored legal requirement to analyze cumulative impacts

“The Forest Service failed to follow the requirements to analyze in one EIS the cumulative effects of the Telegraph timber sale concurrently with the proposed Ten Mile Watershed logging project, although the projects are immediately adjacent to each other,” Garrity said. “The Ten Mile project calls for building up to 43 miles of new logging roads and removing elk and grizzly bear hiding cover on over 38 square miles by logging and burning. Of this, 3,944 acres logging and/or burning will occur in the Jericho Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area in the Ten Mile Project.”

“Cumulatively the Telegraph and Ten Mile timber sales would log or burn 47% of the Jericho Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, which is legally protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule,” Johnson added. “After these two timber sales are completed the Forest Service will destroy up to 47 square miles of occupied lynx habitat, which violates the lynx amendment to the Forest Plan. Lynx is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which requires the agency to recover lynx, not eliminate them from the landscape southwest of Helena.”

“Cumulatively, the Ten Mile and Telegraph projects will reduce elk and grizzly hiding cover below 50%, which violates the agency’s own Forest Plan. The greatest impacts will be along the continental divide at the Ten Mile South Helena and Telegraph project boundaries adjoin. The agency admits that due to the clearcutting and roadbuilding, elk may flee to unlogged private lands to the south.”

Agency used non-federal definition of the Wildland Urban Interface 

“While the lynx amendment allows logging in the Wildland Urban Interface, it also defines the Wildlife Urban Interface to be within one mile of communities,” Garrity explained. “But the Forest Service used a new definition provided by local counties and then remapped the Wildland Urban Interface to include areas over five miles away from communities.”

Project will cost taxpayers nearly $5 million to subsidize the timber industry

“The decision calls for clearcutting a total of 2,724 acres and prescribed burning 1,065 acres, bulldozing 10.3 miles of new logging roads and rebuilding another 32.6 miles of over grown logging roads. The Forest Service admits that the Project is a money-losing venture that will cost taxpayers $4,761,673 – almost 5 million dollars. In return, a popular area of the Helena National Forest will suffer a projected 10-year project that will destroy habitat for elk, lynx, and grizzly bears — but will have new brand logging roads and massive clearcuts,” Garrity concluded. “The Forest Service is showing that its top priority is increasing the size of its own bureaucracy and subsidizing the timber industry with federal taxpayer dollars, which is why we’re taking this terrible project to court.”

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