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A Big Win for the Lynx (and the Rest of Us): Ninth Circuit Court Halts Logging and Roadbuilding in Greater Yellowstone

canadian-lynx

Canadian lynx. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service digital library.

 

On Nov. 1st the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council in their lawsuit against two proposed logging and road-building projects in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in western Montana. The Forest Service’s Bozeman Municipal Watershed timber sale was a 10-year project which authorized more than 3,000 acres of logging, including 200 acres within the Gallatin Fringe Inventoried Roadless Area, 1,575 acres of prescribed burning, and between 7.1 and 8.2 miles of new logging road construction. The East Boulder Timber sale, near Big Timber, MT, authorized 650 acres of logging and 2.1 miles of new road construction.

The last thing you want to do in a healthy watershed is bulldoze in more than 7 miles of new logging roads. This is the fifth time the Forest Service tried to push through the Bozeman Watershed timber sale which has been successfully challenged four times since the 1990s. Simply stated, the agency’s proposal breaks a number of laws and this time around is no different.

It makes no sense to build miles of new logging roads in the watersheds that supply our drinking water. Yet the Forest Service is determined to force bulldozers, logging trucks and helicopters into the Sourdough, Hyalite and South Cottonwood Creek drainages.  Fortunately for the city of Bozeman we won. We are equally determined to protect the outstanding wildlife habitat, water quality and recreational opportunities these federal public lands provide to Bozeman residents and visitors who rightfully expect to encounter nature in a peaceful and quiet forest landscape.

Bozeman Creek and Hyalite Creek are already listed as ‘impaired,’ meaning they’re not in compliance with state water quality standards or the provisions of the federal Clean Water Act. Yet, despite an already degraded aquatic environment, this project would have increased sediment loads in the streams both during and after logging. Protecting this area for lynx also protects Bozeman’s drinking water supply from harmful sediment pollution.

The Bozeman watershed timber sale would have been scheduled to last 10 years. What that means is that the people of Bozeman would have had to deal with logging trucks, road building and helicopters in their favorite back yard recreation area for the next decade.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the logging would adversely affect lynx, which violates the Endangered Species Act. Under the Gallatin National Forest Service’s lynx conservation strategy, 55,000 acres of lynx critical habitat can be logged before they claim there is any impact to lynx.  This is an irrational extinction strategy, not a recovery strategy. The government is supposed to work to protect lynx critical habitat, not destroy it.

If we want to recover lynx and remove them from the Endangered Species list, they need secure habitat on public land. Otherwise they will be forced onto private land where they often end up dead. The Federal government needs to protext lynx habitat not keep trying to clearcut it.

This case affirms our faith in democracy. We were involved in every step of this process, made the agency aware of our concerns and it continued to push the logging forward. For the good of lynx, we were forced to take the federal government to court and we, lynx and the health of the watershed all won. It’s not something we prefer to do, but in the end, judicial review is part and parcel of our system of government and we used it to challenge the federal government’s actions exactly as it was intended.

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and lives in Helena, Montana. Steve Kelly is an artist and co-founder of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and lives in Bozeman, Montana.

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