The East Reservoir forest management project on the Kootenai National Forest took a step forward in the litigation process last Monday March 25 when U.S. 9th Circuit Court Judge Dana Christensen denied the plaintiff’s motion to vacate the US Forest Service’s Record of Decision, meaning that the Forest Service’s original decision on the East Reservoir project will hold, and it will not be annulled. Judge Christensen’s decision also included a request for the Kootenai National Forest to verify the project’s compliance with the Kootenai National Forest Plan, specifically for road construction and road reclassification actions. It is expected that the actions in this project will be found in compliance with the Forest Plan.
Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) is the plaintiff in this case. AWR filed a lawsuit against the Kootenai National Forest East Reservoir project in 2015, claiming the project would cause substantial harm to lynx, bull trout, and grizzly bear habitat. The East Reservoir project would affect 92,407 acres on the east lakeshore of Lake Koocanusa. The project area would also affect the 18,437-acre Tobacco Valley Bears Outside of Recovery Zone (BORZ).
The Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition (KFSC), a collaborative partnership of community members, collaborated around the project and intervened in the lawsuit to support the timber project. Lincoln County, the State of Montana and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho also supported the East Reservoir Project during the legal process.
“The KFSC believes passionately in robust collaborative processes. We believe that proactive, on-the-ground participation in the NEPA process at the project level is the best place to work out our differences concerning critical land management decisions. The East Reservoir project was a perfect opportunity to engage with the USFS collaboratively to address our issues and disagreements and make the changes needed to insure a better outcome on the landscape protecting endangered species, wildlife habitat and linkage zones while meeting the purpose and need of the project. This is a great example of democracy in action!” said Robyn King, chair of the KFSC.
Paul McKenzie, Lands & Resources Manager for F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. said, “The Kootenai Stakeholders are extremely pleased with the outcome of this decision. After four years of having timber critical to the local timber industry tied up in litigation, we are finally able to proceed with implementation of much needed forest management. This decision is good for mill employees and logging contractors, the residents of Lincoln County and most importantly, the forests managed by the Kootenai National Forest. We are pleased to see the collaboratively developed project prevail, even with the significant and unnecessary delays.”