Three conservation groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop a U.S. Forest Service plan for a large logging project near Yellowstone National Park that they say puts several threatened or endangered species in even more danger.
The groups had previously filed a letter of intent to sue, and on Wednesday filed the lawsuit.
The groups — Center for Biological Diversity, the Council on Wildlife and Fish, and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies — pilloried the federal government and said its plans not only make it harder for several species, but because the government wants to decide the timber harvest during the course of as long as 20 years, the public can’t even lodge objections because the specifics of the plan are so unclear.
The groups said that the Forest Service is refusing to identify the locations, timing or scope of the logging units, saying instead that it will make those decisions when crews are on the ground. However, the groups counter that approach robs the public from giving feedback or objections.
Tree harvest plan endangers wildlife habitat near Yellowstone, conservation groups argue
The South Plateau Project, which is in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, plans timber harvest or burning on 16,462 acres, including 5,531 acres of clear-cutting, 6,593 acres of commercial cutting and 56 miles of roads in habitat designated for grizzly bears and Canada lynx.
Much of this area is a critical corridor for species in and out of Yellowstone National Park, attorneys for the groups said.
“(These) provide important hiding cover habitat and movement corridors for grizzly bears outside of Yellowstone National Park. The project will significantly reduce secure habitat in all of these subunits, increase road density and act as a barrier to grizzly bears moving in and out of the National Park,” the letter said.
The U.S. Forest Service has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation and declined to speak about the case with the Daily Montanan.
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The three conservation groups also believe that in addition to harming grizzly bears, the project also threatens lynx, whitebark pine and wolverine populations. In its letter, the groups point out that the Forest Service’s own documentation shows that the project “may affect and is likely to adversely affect” grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and whitebark pine.
The letter also challenges a mapping program that has been raised in other federal litigation. The GIS-program that resulted in the 2016 Canfield study proposed a narrower habitat band for the Canada lynx, between 6,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation, which differs from the older accepted range of 3,500 to 8,000 feet.
“The decision to remap lynx habitat has not undergone any analysis regarding its effects on lynx of lynx critical habitat,” the letter said.
The documents also argue that the area for the proposed logging project is known as a “population sink,” or an area where high grizzly mortality happens.
“The agencies have failed to analyze and consider this information as well as best available science on population status, distribution, and recent threats to grizzly bears,” it said.
It said that even the federal government’s expert said the logging project will reduce grizzly bear “secure habitat” for at least four years below a federal baseline requirement, which the groups argue is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. They said that the project is even more dangerous because the logging project would last for 20 years, disrupting grizzly habitat for generations, and carving more roads into grizzly country, which studies suggest is one of the largest threats to the grizzly bears.
“The Forest Service needs to drop the South Plateau project and quit clearcutting old-growth forests,” said Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Especially clearcutting and bulldozing new logging roads in grizzly habitat on the border of Yellowstone National Park.”
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