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Environmental groups warn clearcutting plan could imperil grizzlies, lynx and old-growth forests

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A wintery view of the Custer Gallatin National Forest from the Storm Castle trail. ADOBE STOCK

Land nearby Yellowstone National Park slated for more than 10,000 acres of timber harvest.

By Darrell Ehrlick DAILY MONTANAN

A coalition of environmental groups has put the United States Forest Service on notice that its plan to clearcut more than 5,500 acres of forests just outside of Yellowstone National Park in the Custer Gallatin National Forest will be challenged.

The groups say in a 122-page letter to the Forest Service outlining their concerns that the plans disrupt critical grizzly bear habitat, fly in the face of the Biden Administration’s plans to preserve old-growth forests and that the permits were based on policies set by the Donald J. Trump Administration – some of which have been struck down by courts.

The project, called the “South Plateau Project,” would allow clearcutting, as well as an additional 9,000 acres of logging and bulldozing 56 miles of road into the area. The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and WildEarth Guardians have joined together to object to the plan.

The U.S. Forest Service has said it will not comment on pending legal matters.

The groups say the project will destroy habitat for grizzly bears, lynx and marten. In addition, the groups criticize the plan as being inconsistent with President Joe Biden’s pledge to protect old-growth forests.

The filing, which is often a necessary first step for challenging the action in federal court, puts the Forest Service on notice of the objections, and can signal the beginning of formal legal action.

In addition to logging in old-growth forests and disrupting critical animal habitat, the groups fault the Forest Service for not presenting updated maps of the project, which did not disclose a road that would be bulldozed through old-growth forests, until after the public review comment period had closed.

In addition, the letter accuses the U.S. Forest Service of failing to disclose what environmental standards it was applying – rules that were in place during the Trump administration, which have been challenged, or rules that existed prior to 2017. They point out that even the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the Forest Service’s plan, saying that it hampered “informed decision-making … and therefore meaningful public participation.”

“The Yellowstone ecosystem is a national treasure that’s vital to so many plants and animals. It deserves protection, not destruction,” said Kristine Akland, Northern Rockies regional director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This reckless project will hurt grizzlies, lynx, and other wildlife, and it’ll harm the climate. We’ll do everything possible to stop the Forest Service from clearcutting and bulldozing its way through these beautiful backcountry forests.”

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