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Judge halts logging project near Libby

by Darrell Ehrlick Daily Montanan
| June 3, 2022 7:00 AM

A federal judge has temporarily halted a large timber logging project in the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains after he said the United States Forest Service failed to properly take into account grizzly bear and Canada lynx population in the area.

The Ripley logging project, which authorized more than 10,000 acres of logging, including more than 3,000 acres of clear-cutting, has been stopped while the Forest Service takes into account the two species.

Much of the case so far has centered on new roads the Forest Service wants to build, calling them “temporary.” However, the lawsuit argues that the Forest Service has a long track record of building those roads for timber projects but never returning them back, which interferes with animal habitat, especially bears’.

Moreover, the Forest Service didn’t properly consider the bears living in the area or the impacts the project could have on the federally protected Canada lynx.

“Roads pose the biggest threat to grizzly bears, and the incredibly high number of roads for this massive logging project would be disastrous for the Cabinet-Yaak population, which is already in a particularly perilous condition,” said Michael Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the group that brought the legal challenge. “The fact is the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is failing every recovery target and goal.”

The project area where the logging would take place is approximately two miles from the Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Recovery Zone, and court records show that three different radio-collared male grizzly bears have been recorded there in the past five to seven years.

Federal District Court Judge Dana Christensen also said the Forest Service failed to even consider whether Canada lynx were in the area, “USFS instead concluded on its own that lynx will not be present in the projected area and that the project therefore would have no effect on them.”

The court noted that normally the United States Fish and Wildlife Service would be called upon to make the determination if the lynx are in the area, or would be affected.

“The forest service relied on the information vacuum of their own making to refute (the) plaintiff’s assertions of likely irreparable injury to those species,” Christensen said.