Two environmental groups have sued to stop a major logging project planned on the Spotted Bear Ranger District east of the South Fork Flathead River.
Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, Friends of the Wild Swan and the Swan View Coalition filed their lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
They are challenging the Spotted Bear forest management project, which would remove about 11 million board feet of timber from 1,853 acres and involve prescribed burns on about 1,347 acres over a six-year period.
The two groups maintain that the project is flawed in its analysis of impacts and that it violates provisions of the Flathead National Forest Plan and the Endangered Species Act.
The project area is home to lynx, wolverines, grizzly bears, fishers and bull trout. The area was designated as critical habitat for lynx and bull trout.
“Logging this critical wildlife area is an irretrievable loss,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “It will take over 100 years for this forest to regrow and in the interim wildlife are displaced from important seasonal habitats. This area needs to be managed for the diverse wildlife that lives here, not for industrial forestry.”
Most of the logging units are in mature, 75- to 140-year-old stands of Douglas fir, western larch, spruce and lodgepole pine that never have been logged.
Joe Krueger, environmental coordinator for the Flathead National Forest, said the project is aimed at improving and restoring forest habitat. Krueger said he is confident the project will hold up in court.
“I’m very confident that we’ve spent an incredible amount of time taking a hard look at the environmental impacts,” he said. “The shame of it is we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with the plaintiffs trying to address their concerns.”
He said forest staffers met with the plaintiffs on field trips to the project area and during the administrative appeals process. As Krueger sees it, a major thrust of this lawsuit is the project’s impacts on lynx.
But he contends that the project complies with and attempts to implement a Northern Rockies Lynx Management policy that was adopted in 2007.
“Here we are following that direction to conserve lynx and they are challenging that,” he said.
Krueger expects a similar angle of attack in the two groups’ opposition to the Soldier Addition II project on the west side of the South Fork Flathead River, and with a legal challenge to a pre-commercial thinning project that was approved for 3,000 acres scattered across the Flathead National Forest.
The latter project would involve hand logging to remove small-diameter trees to improve growing conditions for larger trees over a six-year period.
Montgomery calculates that the Spotted Bear River Project would require more than 2,200 truckloads of logs traveling the East Side Hungry Horse Reservoir Road more than 55 miles to the nearest town.
To access the area, the Forest Service is proposing to reopen 9.7 miles of road that have been closed to enhance security for grizzly bears and other wildlife. It would involve 6.6 miles of new temporary roads that would be used over the six-year span of the project.
Once the project is under way, the roads would be open to public motorized access, which would have additional impacts on grizzly bears and other wildlife, the groups maintain.
The project would open some roads a month earlier than they are currently opened, creating potential impacts to grizzly bears and other wildlife.
“The Spotted Bear area is a critical wildlife connector,” said Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition. “Calving elk and nutritionally stressed bears need more springtime and early summer security, not more motor vehicle traffic.”
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.