Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Lawsuit halted fire mitigation work in area now burning near Lincoln

Two Lincoln-area wildfires are burning within an area the Forest Service approved for fire mitigation work starting this year, but is currently under federal court injunction. Now a coalition of groups and individuals will get to weigh in on the court case and urge a federal judge to allow the project to proceed. Late last summer the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest greenlighted a timber and prescribed burning project called the Stonewall Vegetation Project north and northwest of Lincoln. Within a 24,000-acre project area, the agency approved commercial logging and thinning on 2,100 acres and prescribed fire on 2,700 acres. “It was about creating resilient forest conditions, and part of that being protection for the community of Lincoln,” said Bill Avey, forest supervisor. “There’s fuel loading with high mortality and there’s a history of fire starts in that area that’ve been increasingly hard to catch.” Earlier this month lightning sparked the Park Creek and Arrastra Creek wildfires in the project area, burning more than 6,000 acres to date and still largely uncontained. Last winter, environmental watchdogs Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit challenging the project. The groups contended it would negatively impact elk and grizzly bears while exemptions allowing logging in Canada lynx habitat were misapplied.With the first timber sale sold to a contractor, this spring a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction temporarily halting the project. Judge Dana Christensen ruled that an injunction only temporarily postpones the potential benefits of the project and found the risk of fire was not imminent and did not outweigh the Forest Service’s obligation to follow the Endangered Species Act...more

HT: Howard Hutchinson

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