Approving a trial judge’s recommendations, on October 5, the Montana federal district court ruled in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force in their lawsuits against the sale of Soldier-Butler wood.
The court ruled that the Forest Service had failed to follow its own self-imposed rules to protect the wintering area and elk habitat for snag-dependent species. The court also found that the Forest Service had failed to ensure that grizzly bears were not harmed by the project’s road construction plans.
The Soldier-Butler Project, located approximately 30 miles northwest of Missoula, MT, called for logging and / or fire on 9,975 acres, including 114 acres of clearcuts, plans to The logging industry called for the construction of at least 7 miles of new roads and the addition and reconstruction of more than 37 miles of “indeterminate roads” up to the national forest road network.
This was another huge landscape-scale logging and road building project that covered over 70 square miles and added well over 44 miles of new roads to this already busy landscape. And let’s be clear here. What the Forest Service calls “unspecified roads” are often user-created illegal roads that the agency now legitimizes by including these roads in its official road network.
This only encourages even more illegal and unplanned user-created roads which are very detrimental to the habitat security of grizzly bears and elk. This is the exact opposite of what the Forest Service should be doing to protect our public lands and national forests.
Additionally, many of the “unspecified roads” in the landscape turned out to be roads that the forest service had promised in the past to clear but never did. The Soldier-Butler project area straddles another huge timber sale, the Frenchtown Face Ecosystem Restoration Project, which the Forest Service approved in 2006.
The Frenchtown Face Project has authorized the decommissioning of 115 miles of road, 85 of which straddle the Soldier-Butler project. We dropped our call from the Frenchtown Face Project because the Forest Service promised they would clear these roads, which would have been good for grizzly bears and elk. Instead, as noted in the EA for the Soldier-Butler Project, even though the agency promised in writing that it would clear these roads, only 15 of the 85 miles of roads in the overlap area were removed. The agency went back on its word and grizzly bears and elk paid the price with less secure habitat.
Adding taxpayer insult to environmental damage, the Forest Service estimates it will lose $ 5,122,000 on the Soldier-Butler project. That’s over five million federal taxpayer dollars recklessly spent subsidizing the lumber industry while seriously damaging our pristine shrinking national forests that provide much-needed carbon sinks in the fight against global warming.
Our forests also provide critical habitat for the native fish and wildlife for which Montana is world famous. And it should be noted that the agency wanted to do this so that private logging companies could take advantage of public resources.
It is unfortunate that apparently the only way to get the Forest Service to follow the law is to prosecute it. We hope that Congress will finally take note of the serial offenses committed by the Forest Service and take action. Instead of repeatedly blaming “environmental activists” for upholding the law by the Forest Service, our politicians need to make sure the agency breaks this pattern of developing illegal projects.
If you can afford it, please consider help us fight against crimes against nature.
Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies