Court puts temporary hold on two Flathead Forest timber projects

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Four environmental groups harvested a favorable ruling last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted an emergency injunction that temporarily halts a Swan Valley logging project.

The organizations had asked the appeals court to intervene after the Flathead National Forest allowed work to start on the Glacier Loon Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project in the vicinity of the north end of Lindbergh Lake.

The groups secured a similar injunction in February for the separate but nearby Beaver Creek Landscape Restoration Project. Oral argument in that case is scheduled for April 11.

A contractor had begun work in mid-February on one unit of the Glacier Loon project, said Rob Carlin, forest staff officer for the Flathead National Forest.

The injunction secured last week stops work until the appeals court hears an earlier appeal of the Glacier Loon proposal filed by the Friends of the Wild Swan, Swan View Coalition, Native Ecosystems Council and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Carlin noted that logging likely would have stopped at the end of March because of provisions limiting logging to winter months.

Oral argument on the Glacier Loon case before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will likely occur in July.

Both the Beaver Creek and Glacier Loon projects are proposed for the Swan Lake Ranger District. The Forest Service has said the projects would reduce the potential for severe wildfires, reduce the risk of insect epidemics and disease infestations, and provide forest products for the regional timber industry.

The environmental groups’ concerns focused primarily on the potential effects of the projects on what they say is excellent habitat for grizzly bears, lynx and wolverines.

They criticize the Glacier Loon project’s proposal for timber sales of 1,400 acres and construction of nearly 6 miles of temporary roads in prime habitat.

The groups described similar concerns about the Beaver Creek project, which proposes logging near the south end of Lindbergh Lake and would build about 5.5 miles of temporary roads.

“Both the Beaver Creek and Glacier Loon timber sales are in ‘management situation 1’ grizzly bear habitat - which is the designation for the very best grizzly bear habitat,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Garrity said the Flathead National Forest’s Forest Plan requires the agency “to prioritize the needs of grizzly bears in ‘management situation 1’ habitats when other land uses compete.”

Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan objected to logging and road building in an area she described as key habitat for grizzly bear, lynx and wolverine.

“If the Flathead [National Forest] was concerned with restoring wildlife habitat it would remove, not build roads,” Montgomery said.

In 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the Forest Service had done the analysis necessary for the Glacier Loon project to proceed.

Federal District Court Judge Dana Christiansen reached a similar decision about the Beaver Creek project.

Molloy had previously blocked the Glacier Loon project, finding that the Forest Service’s review of potential impacts to wildlife and a threatened plant species had been inadequate.

After the environmental groups failed to gain emergency injunctions from Molloy and Christiansen, they asked the Ninth Circuit to intervene and received the injunctions sought.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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