Ninth Circuit Court leaves Telegraph Vegetation project decision in place

HELENA, Mont. (Jan. 13, 2020) – Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that will allow the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to proceed with implementation of the Telegraph Vegetation project. This project was designed to reduce wildfire risk, improve conditions for firefighter safety, provide wood products to the local timber industry, and contribute to a healthier and more resilient forest landscape in the project area near Elliston.

“We are very pleased with the Ninth Circuit court’s decision and that project implementation will continue to provide important fuels reduction and forest health work, along with economic benefits to Powell and Jefferson Counties,” said Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Bill Avey. “It has been a real community effort getting to this point–counties, community groups, and partners have all remained committed throughout the entire process in order to accomplish much–needed work on our public lands.”

The final plan for the Telegraph Vegetation project was released in January 2017. Shortly after, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council filed suit against the Forest Service, claiming that the project violated the Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. Following a 2018 decision by the District Court of Montana in favor of the Forest Service, the groups brought their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Jan. 6, 2020, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision that the project’s biological opinion regarding grizzly bears was adequate and did not violate the Endangered Species Act. The court also remanded the matter to allow the Forest Service to reconsider the scope of work within the Wildland Urban Interface for the Telegraph Vegetation project without withdrawing the project decision, since this is estimated to impact approximately 50 acres–less than one percent–of the total project acreage.

The court decision will allow the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to proceed with implementation of the Telegraph Vegetation project while review of project work in the Powell County Wildland Urban Interface is ongoing. “Delaying the project in the interim could have negative consequences for the environment and public safety, as the project was designed to improve forest health and create safer firefighting conditions,” the court wrote.

The Telegraph Vegetation project area is located approximately five miles south of Elliston in the Little Blackfoot Drainage west of the Continental Divide. The final decision for the project authorizes approximately 5,600 acres of forest management activities including timber harvest, wildfire fuels reduction, and prescribed fire. A variety of forest management activities are currently ongoing in the project area and are expected to continue for the next three to four years. Wood products from timber harvest operations at the project site are being provided to local lumber mills, and firewood is being distributed to households near the project area.

 

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