Missoula, USA — A court decision supporting a Montana project to reducewildfire fuels under the federal Healthy Forests Restoration Act is under appealby two environmental groups.
The WildWest Institute and Friends of the Bitterroot appealed to the 9th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday. The groups challenged a December decision inwhich U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula allowed the Middle East ForkHazardous Fuels Reduction project to move forward. The project calls for removalof trees and brush on about 5,000 acres in a 25,000-acre area east of Sula inthe southern Bitterroot Valley. Bitterroot National Forest officials say theproject will reduce wildfire risk and help areas affected by an outbreak ofDouglas fir bark beetles.
WildWest and Friends of the Bitterroot say the Forest Service violated federallaw by committing resources to the Middle East Fork project prior to a finaldecision on its status. The groups also say the agency censored scientificfindings unfavorable to the project, excluded the public from discussions andgave potential soil problems inadequate attention. The appeal to the 9th Circuit challenges Molloy’s rejection of those claims.
Besides appealing to the 9th Circuit, the environmental groups asked Molloy foran injunction to prevent logging on 1,252 acres of what the groups considerold-growth forest.
The Forest Service once classified part of the proposed logging area asold-growth forest, then removed the classification in the wake of the beetleepidemic. The agency said the timber no longer met criteria necessary for theold-growth designation.
“The (injunction) would simply allow the court of appeals an opportunity toreview the merits of the case before any previously unlogged, old growth ismistakenly cut,” WildWest and Friends of the Bitterroot said in a statementreleased Friday.
The injunction would not affect most of the area covered by the Middle East ForkHazardous Fuels Reduction Project.
In an e-mail, Julia Altemus of the Montana Logging Association said that “hopefullyclear minds will prevail in the 9th Circuit.” If WildWest and Friends ofthe Bitterroot prevail on appeal, then other projects to reduce wildfire fuelscould be jeopardized, Altemus said.