PIERRE, S.D. -- A judge in Wyoming has granted requests by South Dakota and Wyoming to intervene in a federal lawsuit involving management of the Black Hills National Forest.
Four environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service last October, saying the agency was allowing "extreme levels" of logging that were damaging plants and wildlife habitat. The lawsuit seeks a halt to certain timber sales and grazing projects.
"The level of logging on the Black Hills National Forest has been so excessive for so long that wildlife habitat is getting wiped out across much of the forest, and animals from land snails to northern goshawks to American martens have declined to the point where they may disappear," said John Persell, attorney with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.
The lawsuit was filed by that group, the Western Watersheds Project, the Native Ecosystems Council and the Prairie Hills Audubon Society.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said Tuesday that some of the projects named in the lawsuit are aimed at addressing the pine beetle epidemic that has affected millions of acres in the American West.
"It is imperative that we continue to preserve our forests with a responsible forestry plan that addresses the pine beetle infestation and continues to protect our wildlife and our forest," he said. "While the environmentalists may be well-intentioned, the forestry plan is ultimately created to allow for healthier forests for all."
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The 8,125-square-mile Black Hills National Forest is in northeastern Wyoming and western South Dakota. Both states are being allowed to intervene in the lawsuit because of their interests in decisions affecting the forest.
However, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl said in his March 28 ruling that the two states will be required to file joint briefs in the case in the interest of saving time and money. Oral arguments are scheduled for July 26 in federal court in Casper, Wyo.
It is not the first time that South Dakota has successfully intervened in a lawsuit over management of the forest. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last year sided with a federal judge who had earlier dismissed a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to halt a timber-cutting project in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. South Dakota was allowed to be a part of that case, which ultimately was moved to South Dakota after Jackley argued for a change of venue.