Opinion on Colt Summit Published
Judge Molloy’s opinion on Colt Summit link here.
Article in Missoulian here.
Here’s an excerpt:
“The plaintiffs in this case insist the Forest Service’s cumulative effects analysis for lynx is inadequate. On this point they are correct. On remand the Forest Service must prepare a supplemental (environmental assessment) that adequately addresses the cumulative effects for lynx, and if necessary after that review, an (environmental impact statement).”
The project was heralded earlier this year as the model for a new kind of collaborative forest management, where lumber mills and conservation groups work in concert with the U.S. Forest Service on tasks everyone agrees are needed.
Colt-Summit’s backers included Pyramid Mountain Lumber, the Wilderness Society, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and two retired chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service.
Molloy’s decision blocked the 2,000 acres of logging and 17 miles of roadwork, but Megan Birzell of the Wilderness Society, a supporter of the plan, told the Missoulian last month that the judge’s finding was not a major setback because of his concurrent finding that the project passed muster under the Endangered Species Act.
“The judge said it won’t have an impact on lynx, but the Forest Service needs to beef up their analysis to better document that,” she said.
The plaintiffs argued that the project area serves as a corridor for lynx that move between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Mission Mountains. Molloy said this does not appear to be the case.
The Forest Service relies on GPS tracking data that show lynx do not use the project area as a corridor to travel between the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountains, he wrote, but instead cross Highway 83 south of the project.
“This means the project area is probably not an ‘ecologically critical area’ based on its use by the lynx as a linkage corridor,” according to his opinion.
The Forest Service now must prepare a supplemental environmental assessment, and is enjoined from implementing the Colt Summit project while the assessment is pending.
Note from Sharon: I’m going to take a look at the decision because it should be interesting exactly what kind of more cumulative impacts the judge is looking for.
This article says there are 2,000 acres of “logging”; again I have posted above the table that shows the acres. 1200 are “understory slashing with underburning”. Now it’s true I’m not from Montana but usually, where I’m from, “understory” is not merchantable, hence not “logging” as defined in the dictionary. Commercial thinning (selective logging) seems to be on about 600 acres.
One piece of evidence that this is confusing is that the reporter said:
The National Environmental Policy Act has been a regular stumbling block for Forest Service timber projects. It requires a variety of scientific reviews to ensure a project doesn’t hurt the environment.
This isn’t really clear that NEPA “allows” the project to hurt the environment; ESA here is the statute that protects the environment. NEPA requires documentation that you have considered the impacts; it’s a procedural statute. That’s what’s confusing, yet illuminating, about this decision (it seems to be saying, “you have made the case you’re not in violations of any environmental statutes but you haven’t documented as much as NEPA requires”).
It could be that the plaintiffs are hoping that the FS will provide additional documentation so that they can make the case that there is really an ESA violation. Because it seems like it raises the question “is this about not following ESA, or about making people do more documentation, and to what end?”