Judge Molloy blocks timber sale near Seeley Lake

http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/judge-molloy-blocks-timber-sale-near-seeley-lake/article_63b1a4dc-bb4d-11e1-b49f-001a4bcf887a.html

48 MINUTES AGO  •  BY ROB CHANEY OF THE MISSOULIAN

A federal judge has blocked the timber sale portion of the Colt-Summit Project near Seeley Lake, which a coalition of logging and conservation groups had touted as a new way of managing forests.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy denied all but one of the claims by Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies opposing the sale. But that last claim, that the U.S. Forest Service failed to adequately study how the project might affect endangered lynx habitat, Molloy said was enough to grant summary judgment.

“We and the Forest Service had both asked for an expedited briefing,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity said Wednesday. “The Forest Service wanted to start operations next week. The judge enjoined the timber sale as illegal, and said a full decision would follow. The bottom line is we’re happy.”

Colt-Summit was a complex mix of logging, road removal, hazardous fuels thinning, habitat improvement, weed control and prescribed burning on about 2,000 acres of forest north of Seeley Lake. Its supporters included the Montana Logging Association and the National Wildlife Federation, whose leaders hoped to make it an example of collaborative forest planning.

Garrity countered that the timber sale part of the project was environmentally harmful and would cost taxpayers $1.5 million. The opposing groups did not object to the road removals and other rehabilitation parts of the project.

A Forest Service spokesman did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.

In a brief announcement, Molloy said the Forest Service properly complied with many federal standards on lynx critical habitat, native fish strategy and the Endangered Species Act. But he said the agency didn’t follow the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement to study cumulative impacts on lynx from the project. He ordered the Forest Service to do further analysis before proceeding.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.