Fuel reduction project for the Crazy Mountains gets go-ahead

Johnathan Hettinger —
Friday, August 3, 2018
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Enterprise file photo

Shown is an aerial view of the Crazy Mountains in this Sept. 28, 2016 photograph.

A forest fire fuel reduction project in the Crazy Mountains east of Wilsall will be allowed to go forward, a federal judge ruled this week.

The Smith/Shields Forest Health Project, proposed in 2016, will include cuts on around 1,660 acres, in a proposed 19,630-acre region.

The area had disease and insect outbreaks, including western spruce budworm, mountain pine beetles and lodgepole pine dwarf mistletoe, which led to mortality issues in many trees, leading to more fuel for a potential fire.

When the project was announced, public meetings were held, along with a field trip to the site.

The suit, filed by the Native Ecosystems Council and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, alleged the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully approved the project, violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Among other things, the suit alleged the government broke the law by not giving proper consideration to protections for the Canadian lynx.

However, in his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy, of Missoula, found the government followed the law.

Park County, along with Meagher County, filed an amicus brief in support of the project.

“We feel the project is important from a public safety prospective,” Park County Commission Chairman Steve Caldwell said. “The area is heavily forested and increasingly developed with an increasing number of houses, and access is limited.”

The project has already been bid out to Livingston’s RY Timber; however, plaintiffs intend to appeal.

“We disagree with the ruling and will appeal it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Alex Sienkiewicz, Custer Gallatin National Forest’s Yellowstone District Ranger, said the project is a collaboration of many people, including the local communities in the Shields Valley, Livingston and county officials.

“I think the court’s decision will be pleasing to folks all around in our communities,” Sienkiewicz said. “In our perspective, it’s a pretty straightforward, common sense project on a relatively small area of land close to developments and neighborhoods. It’s an outcome we’re happy with, and we’re looking forward to moving forward.”