Alliance for the Wild Rockies files complaint in federal US court against Blankenship Vegetation Treatment Project in Montana, claims timber sale calls for logging, burning, in lynx, goshawk and wolverine habitat

HELENA, Montana , February 26, 2014 (press release) – Blankenship Logging and Burning Project Challenged by Alliance for the Wild Rockies

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a Complaint in Federal District Court in Great Falls today to stop the Blankenship Vegetation Treatment Project near Monarch in the Little Belt Mountains. The project called for logging and prescribed burning of approximately 1,100 acres, about two square miles, as well as building 4.3 miles of temporary roads and rebuilding 2.3 miles of roads in and around inventoried roadless areas. The Alliance contends that the project would violate the Endangered Species Act, The National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

"Although the Federal government is under a Court Order to examine occupied lynx habitat in the Little Belt Mountains to see if it qualifies as lynx Critical Habitat, the Lewis and Clark National Forest proposed yet more logging in this area, which is simply not the way to recover this endangered species," said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

"Maps showing Lynx Occurrence/Distribution, which were provided by the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, show the Little Belt Mountains are definitely lynx habitat," Garrity explained. "Although it is now illegal to trap lynx, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks records also show that the trapping seasons from 1959 through 1967 in north-central Montana — an area that includes the Little Belt Mountains — resulted in 268 lynx trapped over eight seasons."

"The Forest Service estimates Montana’s current population of lynx to be only about 300 animals and falling," Garrity continued. "Even the Forest Service previously determined that at least part of the Forest is considered 'occupied’ by lynx. So, from the best available present and past data, there is ample evidence to suggest that lynx 'may be present’ in the Little Belts and the Blankenship area."

"But now the Forest Service claims there are no lynx, so logging can't harm them. The truth, however, is that the Forest Service barely looked for lynx. Lynx are very hard to find and it is a violation of federal law to claim there aren't lynx in the Little Belts if you don't properly look for them."

"The bottom line is that the Blankenship timber sale calls for logging and burning in lynx, goshawk, and wolverine habitat. But the National Forest Management Act requires the agency to ensure that there are viable populations of wildlife in the forest after they log," said Garrity. "Simply put, the reason the Forest Service couldn’t find any wolverines or active goshawk nests in the project area is because past logging has destroyed their habitat and driven them off, so the agency is already in violation of federal law."

"This timber sale will also destroy important thermal cover for mule deer in violation of the Lewis and Clark Forest Plan," Garrity said.

"The inescapable result," Garrity said, "is that this is an illegal timber sale that destroys important habitat for declining threatened and endangered native Montana species while 'getting out the cut' at a cost of over $2 million taxpayer dollars. When our government is going broke, the last thing America needs is federal agencies breaking the laws to provide even more corporate welfare for the timber industry."

"Congress and the President need to explain to the American people why they are giving taxpayers' dollars to the serial law breaking Forest Service," Garrity concluded.

Please find the complaint attached

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