A proposed logging project west of Red Lodge that began with planning efforts in 2012 has been temporarily shelved by the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
“It’s frustrating we’re not able to implement that,” said Beartooth District ranger Ken Coffin. “It’s a good project.”
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies had challenged the project from its inception saying the work would harm lynx and grizzly bear habitat.
“It’s great for taxpayers because the Forest Service estimated they would lose $588,000” on the timber sale, said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance. “Everyone wins but the Forest Service bureaucracy, and the timber industry will get less subsidized timber sales, which is a good thing. And there won’t be over 500 acres of clear cuts.”
In November a U.S. District Court judge granted the Alliance’s request for a preliminary injunction to halt the work and ordered the forest to consider the project’s possible impact on lynx habitat.
“Instead of pulling it back it was their decision to plow forward, and that forced us to go to court,” Garrity said. “It was a huge waste of time and money. ...”
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In an email sent Wednesday, forest supervisor Mary Erickson announced the withdrawal of the agency’s record of decisions in the project known as the Greater Red Lodge Vegetation and Habitat Management and Nichols Creek Road Reconstruction.
The project was proposed across nearly 22,000 acres in the Red Lodge Creek area near the small community of Luther and the Willow-Nichols creek area west of Red Lodge. Although the work has been temporarily stalled and project modifications could be made, the agency isn’t forsaking the project.
“We haven’t abandoned it, but we’re postponing the implementation until we work through this lynx stuff,” Coffin said. “We have every intention of getting it out there and doing the work.”
That’s because, as Erickson said in her email, “We continue to be concerned about large stand-replacing, high-intensity wildfires on the Beartooth Front and will continue to evaluate this area in particular.”
The email goes on to say that any future action would require a new environmental analysis and be “consistent with the best available science on lynx critical habitat and the Forest Service’s commitment to ensure the protection of such habitat.”
That analysis would require a supplemental environmental impact statement that Coffin said could be completed by next year.