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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Environmental Groups Sue Over Flathead Forest Project

Beaver Creek Project Selected Alternative-North
Flathead National Forest
Beaver Creek Project Selected Alternative-North

Environmental conservation groups are suing to block a plan to log, thin, and prescription-burn about 2,900 acres in the Flathead National Forest. The groups say it violates federal laws.

The Beaver Creek Project borders Lindbergh Lake and the Mission Mountain Wilderness. Rich Kehr, the Flathead Forest’s Swan Lake District Ranger, says the biggest driver in the project is wildfire concerns.

“We have the community of Lindbergh Lake on the downstream end of the lake. And what we are trying to achieve with this project is establishment of a primary line of defense around the community. By doing that, we recognize that fire is going to continue to play a role in the landscape. But what we want to do is move the landscape into a condition where it can provide more of its natural historical role in the landscape where it had lower intensity fire.”

The designated project area is about 35,000 acres, but only about 2,900 acres of that are slated for commercial logging, forest thinning and prescribed burning. The Forest Service says those actions will, "reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire, improve forest  health and ecological resilience, improve fish and wildlife habitat and benefit the local economy."

The project plan calls for about 1,800 acres for commercial timber harvest.

Just over five miles of new temporary road will be constructed. More than 17 miles of road will be temporarily closed or decommissioned entirely.

Thursday, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan filed a lawsuit to stop the Beaver Creek Project.

Steve Kelly with Friends of the Wild Swan says the project violates federal law, because the Forest Service failed to analyze the cumulative environmental impacts of Beaver Creek and another nearby project.

"They want to log, they want to build roads, with no regard for the recovery and well being of grizzly bears and big game and other animals that are impacted and threatenedd by this kind of activity out in the backcountry."

The groups say the project prioritizes logging over wildlife in critical grizzly bear and lynx habitat.

Kelly says the project area is in backcountry wilderness and people with property in the area should understand the wildfire risk of living there.

"If people can’t deal with nature and the way forests operate in a natural evolution, or a natural succession, they should move to New Jersey where they’ve cut down all the forest, or Ohio, where there are no forests. If people want to be paranoid about forests, they’re living in the wrong state."

Wildfires raging across Montana are burning more than 200,000 acres, clouding the state with smoke, unhealthy air, and threatening homes and lives.

With this backdrop, Republican members of Montana’s U.S. congressional delegation have attacked groups pushing lawsuits like the one filed yesterday.

Soon after Friends of the Wild Swan and the other  groups announced their intention to challenge to the Beaver Creek Project, U.S. Senator Steve Daines issued a statement saying it, "defies decency that yet another radical environmentalist group would sue to block a needed forest management project that would reduce fire danger."

The U.S. District Court in Missoula has not yet set a schedule for the legal challenge to the Beaver Creek Project.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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