Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The Center for Biological Diversity, headquartered in Tucson, Arizona with offices in Missoula, announced last week its intention to sue the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the Mud Creek timber sale on the Bitterroot National Forest.

KGVO News reached out to spokesperson Kristine Akland to explain the reasons for the intended lawsuit to stop the timber sale.

Group Files Suit to Halt Mud Creek Timber Sale

“The Mud Creek timber sale project is a massive timber sale project in the southwestern through national forest and the on the ground consequences of this project has the high potential to entirely eliminate some subpopulations of bull trout in the area,” began Akland. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have acknowledged that the Bitterroot population of bull trout is very much teetering on the edge of extinction.”

Akland also emphasized the danger to Grizzly bears in the timber sale area.

“Three grizzly bears and as many days were spotted in the Sapphire (Mountains),” she said. “As you know, grizzly bears need habitat that is un-roaded to live and to reproduce, and instead of the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service helping the Grizzly bears find that type of habitat and create more of that habitat in the Bitterroots, they're just, logging more and building more roads.”

The USFS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can Then Respond

Ackland said both agencies will have the opportunity to respond to the Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit.

"The Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, they both have the duty to comply with ESA ( Endangered Species Act), and and so in terms of talking about the violation that we have identified, they'll respond to us, they'll respond to our NOI (Notice of Inent) and either say we disagree, or they won't even respond," she said. "Then in that case, you know, that's the implicit acknowledgement that they don't agree and in that case, we can file a complaint."

Akland said invoking the Endangered Species Act will put a pause on the Mud Creek timber sale.

“What I expect to happen internally amongst those two agencies is that they'll discuss the violations that we've identified,” she said. “What hopefully will happen is that the Forest Service will reinitiate the consultation process with the Fish and Wildlife Service to address those issues, and while that consultation is happening between the two agencies, the logging can't go forward under the Endangered Species Act.”

The Spokesperson said 'We're in the Midst of an Extinction Crisis'

Akland wrote the following in closing: ‘We’re in the midst of an extinction crisis and the federal government must prioritize safeguarding our forests and protected species, not sell them off to the highest bidder.’

The Center for Biological Diversity also announced late last week that a federal judge ruled in favor of conservation groups and scrapped the Black Ram logging project in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. That project threatened a small and imperiled population of grizzly bears near the Montana-Canada border.

Below, find the press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity regarding the Black Ram logging project.

MISSOULA, Mont.— A federal judge late Thursday ruled in favor of conservation groups and scrapped the massive Black Ram logging project in Montana’s Kootenai National Forest. The project threatened a small and imperiled population of grizzly bears near the Montana-Canada border.

“This is a great win for the wild forests and grizzly bears of Montana’s spectacular Yaak Valley,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision affirms that agencies can’t ignore the vulnerability of this small but critical population of grizzlies and can’t turn a blind eye to the climate harms of clearcutting mature forests.

The project would have allowed nearly 4,000 acres of the Kootenai National Forest to be commercially logged, including clearcutting more than 1,700 acres and logging hundreds of acres of centuries-old trees, destroying habitat for a largely isolated, fragile population of about 25 grizzly bears in the Yaak Valley. Constant truck traffic would have exposed bears to increased human conflict and death.

 The order prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from implementing the project, which was expected to last 10 years.

 “For decades the Kootenai National Forest has been clearcutting our oldest, largest trees,” said Rick Bass, director of the Yaak Valley Forest Council. “The Forest Service is deliberately undercutting the Biden administration’s commitment to battling climate change. We shouldn’t have had to fight for seven years over such a ridiculous project, and we’re grateful for the support we’ve received.”

 In June 2022 conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the project. In this ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored population declines in the Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzlies, and that the Forest Service failed to address harms to grizzlies from illegal use of motorized vehicles. The court also found that the Forest Service failed to consider the climate harms of logging thousands of acres of forest that currently store carbon.

 The court rejected the Forest Service’s argument that the project would have an “infinitesimal” impact on climate change because young trees would eventually replace the carbon being stored in trees the project would cut down. In his ruling, Molloy said “logging causes immediate carbon losses, while re-sequestration happens slowly over time, time that the planet may not have.”

 “This ruling is a giant win,” said Adam Rissien, ReWilding manager with WildEarth Guardians. “It's a win for mature and old growth forests because the court recognized their importance in storing carbon, a factor the Forest Service failed to properly consider. It’s also a win for the small population of grizzlies in the Yaak Valley, as the courts found recent deaths of female bears among this population cannot be ignored.”

 “The bottom line is that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is failing every recovery target and goal, so we are thrilled that we won our case,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is failing the target for females with cubs; it is failing the target for distribution of females with cubs; it is failing the female mortality limit (which is 0 mortalities until a minimum of 100 bears is reached); and it is failing the mortality limit for all bears (also 0 mortalities until a minimum of 100 bears is reached). It’s long past time for the Forest Service to recover grizzly bears by protecting their habitat as required by law instead of destroying it.”

The 2.2 million-acre Kootenai National Forest includes the state’s lowest elevation along the Yaak River and reaches to the 7,700-foot Northwest Peak in the Purcell Range of northwest Montana. More than 190 species of birds and many other native animals, including wolves, Canada lynx, wolverines, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and black bears, roam the forest.

Mature and old-growth trees absorb and store significant amounts of carbon. Trees pull carbon pollution in the form of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots. Trees continue to absorb and store carbon as they grow and age.

Logging, transportation and manufacturing release most of trees’ stored carbon over a short period of time. Ecologically impoverished tree plantations take centuries to recover the lost carbon and wildlife habitat provided by older forests.’

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