Groups to sue Interior over Mont. logging and road plan
Written byPHIL TAYLOR, Greenwire
Three environmental groups yesterday said they plan to sue the Interior Department over a logging and road building plan in Montana they argue would harm endangered grizzly bears and federally threatened bull trout.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Wild Swan and Montana Environmental Information Center will challenge Interior's issuance of a 50-year permit allowing the state to sell timber, build roads and authorize grazing on state forests in western Montana.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service approved Montana's plan to build 1,100 miles of new roads, delay essential remedial actions on existing roads, allow logging immediately adjacent to bull trout streams, and diminish secure core habitat protections for grizzly bears over 39,600 acres," said Jenny Harbine, an attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the groups.
The groups said road building and logging will unleash sediment into streams important to bull trout, which require cold, clean water to spawn. They said state lands contain some of the most important bull trout spawning streams.
Harbine said that the state plan proposes 10 years of study before beginning road improvements but that new road building can begin immediately. The plan would also allow some logging within no-harvest buffer zones near streams, she said.
In addition, western Montana contains large patches of mountain meadowlands that serve as bastions for grizzlies in the lower 48 states.
"Landscape-scale habitat conservation plans such as this are a good thing because they could enable the state to think broadly about where species need the most protections," Harbine said this morning. "But instead of those kinds of farsighted landscape-level decisions that are good for species, this locks in inadequate conservation measures that will take place for 50 years."
A spokeswoman for FWS said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Gordy Sanders, resource manager for Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake, Mont., said Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has gone to great lengths to craft a plan that satisfies FWS and protects species and their habitats.
"I think it's very well thought out," he said of the habitat conservation plan. "It's not an aggressive type of harvesting plan. They're being very conscientious."
The HCP, which includes conservation strategies for grizzlies, bull trout, lynx and two unlisted aquatic species, offers critical certainty to the timber industry that projects won't be sued, Sanders said. The state's half-million acres of trust lands, he added, are a critical source of timber.
"It is the only predictable volume for any of the forest products industry in the state of Montana," he said. "They hit their targets every year."
The state's proposed plan includes the Stillwater, Coal Creek and Swan River state forests. While voluntary, the HCP is required to obtain incidental take permits allowing listed species to be killed or disturbed.
The environmental groups said they will file a lawsuit in a federal district court in 60 days if FWS does not address its concerns under the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.