Conservation Groups Sue U.S. Forest Service

Casper Star-Trib, Bear Hunting Magazine

Two conservation groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service to prevent logging and road building in grizzly bear habitat near Yellowstone National Park.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Missoula. Named as defendants are the Forest Service and Regional Forester Tom Tidwell.

The plaintiffs seek to stop the Lonesome Wood Timber Sale in the Hebgen Lake Ranger District on the Gallatin National Forest, a project aimed at wildfire fuels reduction. The project authorizes 1,572 acres of commercial logging, including 422 acres of old growth habitat, and the building of 5.1 miles of roads. The project includes some logging in an area along Hebgen Lake, ten miles northwest of West Yellowstone and five miles west of Yellowstone National Park.

The Lonesome Wood project was approved in April 2008. The two conservation groups filed administrative appeals in June that were denied in July. They filed the federal court lawsuit Friday Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the project intrudes on sensitive grizzly habitat.

"Grizzly Bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem were recently taken off the Endangered Species list and as soon as they were delisted the Forest Service proposed building more roads into occupied grizzly bear habitat," Garrity said in a news release.

Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Forest Service Northern Region headquarters in Missoula, said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but Davis said public safety was the primary concern in devising the project, which would reduce wildfire fuels around recreational homes and campgrounds in the Hebgen Lake area.

"It's a response to the increasing risk of destructive fires," Davis said in a telephone interview. "It also reduces the risks in the evacuation routes, which are very narrow and limited in that area."

Davis said the logging project will implement part of an already existing community wildfire protection plan for Hebgen Lake recreational properties.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies joined six other groups in a separate lawsuit filed in 2008 to reverse the delisting of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Federal judges in Montana and Idaho are presiding over three separate lawsuits challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2007 removal of grizzly bears from the endangered species list.

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