Two conservation groups are suing the United States Forest Service for what they say is a failure to follow several federal laws and jeopardizing lynx habitat.
Lynx remain on the endangered species list.
The two groups, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, previously sued the Forest Service in 2015 for the Greater Red Lodge logging project and won when a federal judge said the forest service had violated the law by not considering the potential impacts to the lynx critical habitats, reports the Daily Montanan.
Now in court filings, the groups allege the Forest Service has not only disregarded several key federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, but has unlawfully redrawn maps of lynx habitat without review and comment for the purpose of logging more than 1,000 acres in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, directly adjacent to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area.
The project area encompasses West Red Lodge Creek, Nichols Creek and Willow Creek, approximately 21,871 acres. The lawsuit said the area provides habitat for grizzly bears, moose, elk and lynx.
The two conservation groups contend that the Forest Service essentially redrew “lynx habitat” as part of the process, but did not provide support for why the habitat had changed. The groups contend officials redrew the maps to use in their materials supporting the timber sale. The lawsuit also claims that Forest Service officials didn’t use the legal definition of lynx habitat nor did they submit the newly drawn lynx habitat maps for analysis and review, which is required by law.
Babete Anderson, the national press officer for the Forest Service, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
“The agency did not clearly disclose to the public that it had decided to ‘map out of existence’ and ignore large percentages of lynx habitat in the Rock Creek Lynx Analysis Unit and Rosebud Lynx Analysis Unit in its calculations and analysis of how the project affects lynx habitat,” the suit said.
The complaint claims the omission will lead to more logging of lynx habitat.
“The project will remove quantifiable acres of lynx habitat, displace lynx during the project and alter the ability of lynx to use habitat for decades due to their avoidance of clear-cuts and preference for winter habitat in mature, multi-story forests,” the suit said.
The case asks a federal judge in Missoula, where the case was filed, to declare that the Forest Service has violated the National Environmental Policy Act, enjoin the Forest Service from moving forward, and order the agency to remove the impact statements and record of decision until “the defendants demonstrate to this court that they have adequately complied with the law.”
“The Forest Service now contends the areas the agency wants to long are no longer lynx habitat,” said Jane Johnson, director of the Native Ecosystems Council. “But it did this without explaining to the public why this would be the case and then refused to take public comment on this issue.”