Commentary

Stop massive, destructive clearcuts on Yellowstone National Park’s border

November 21, 2022 4:21 am

Patch from the United States Forest Service (Photo via Wikimedia | Public domain).

Thanks to objections by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council the United States Forest Service dropped its huge South Plateau logging project last year. Because the plan called for thousands of acres of clearcuts on the very border of Yellowstone National Park, it violated the existing forest plan’s restrictions on how many miles of roads could be built in grizzly habitat as well as destroying habitat for elk, lynx, pine martens and wolverines.

When the Forest Service pulled the decision, the agency said it would try again when the newly-revised forest plan was in place. What the Forest Service did not tell the public was that the revised Custer Gallatin Forest Plan eliminated all of the wildlife protection standards found in the old forest plan – including science-backed restrictions on the amount of logging roads that can be bulldozed in grizzly bear habitat since most grizzlies are killed within about 500 yards of a road.

The bad news is that the Custer Gallatin National Forest has resurrected its South Plateau logging project which now calls for more than 4,600 acres (11 square miles) of clearcuts as well as additional logging across 9,000 acres (14 square miles) and bulldozing up to 56 miles of roads from the border of Yellowstone all the way over the Continental Divide into Idaho.

The project continues to violate the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to disclose precisely where, when and how it would bulldoze roads and clearcut the National Forest, which makes it impossible for the public to realistically analyze the project’s impacts as required by law. It’s so vague and lacking in detail that even the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the plan in its comments.

On top of that, consider that the Forest Service estimates it will lose a whopping $3.2 million of federal taxpayers’ money on the project, which calls for logging trees more than a century old that not only provide critical wildlife habitat, but store significant amounts of carbon dioxide, an essential component of addressing the climate emergency. The logging and bulldozing project will also destroy the scenery and solitude for hikers using the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which crosses the proposed timber-sale area. So much for the “scenic trail.”

The Forest Service should drop the South Plateau project for good and quit clearcutting old-growth forests — especially in grizzly bear and lynx habitat on the border of Yellowstone National Park. But the agency also needs to amend the new revised forest plan since it contains no standards for protecting either wildlife or lodgepole pine forests. Although some groups are calling for the agency to write an Environmental Impact Statement for project, the simple truth is that an EIS won’t do any good since the Revised Forest Plan doesn’t contain necessary protections for endangered species or forest habitat – which is why the project was pulled when it was proposed under the old forest plan.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service shows no signs of either abandoning the project or amending the forest plan. That means the Alliance will likely have to take them to federal court to force the agency to follow the law and protect national forests, endangered species, and the native wildlife that call these forests home.

Thanks to your donations, the Alliance continues to aggressively take federal land management agencies to court to force them to follow both the law and the recommendations of their own scientists. We win about 80% of our lawsuits, but of course, lawsuits are both time-consuming and expensive, so we’re asking for your help to once again launch the legal battle to protect the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

We know times are tough, but would greatly appreciate any help you can give us to force this federal land management agency to follow the law and protect this precious national resource before more native species go extinct due to habitat loss.

Thanks again to all who have supported this essential fight over the years and please also consider supporting the Daily Montanan for continuing its great job of informing the public about what our government is trying to do to the National Forests in Montana and wildlife that belong to all Americans.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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Mike Garrity
Mike Garrity

Mike Garrity is the executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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