Judge still weighing Glacier Loon project’s impacts

September 26, 2018

Chain saws won’t sputter or roar on the Glacier Loon project until a federal judge concludes the U.S. Forest Service has met its obligations to fully assess the venture’s environmental impacts.

Several conservation groups contend the Glacier Loon project, located in a portion of the Swan River Valley, could negatively impact critical habitat for the Canada lynx and also affect grizzly bears, bull trout and water howellia, a threatened plant species.

The Forest Service has said the Glacier Loon Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project would, among other things, reduce the risk of “high-severity landscape wildfire” and “increase the probability of stopping wildfires on National Forest lands before they burn onto private lands.”

The project area would be south and west of Condon on the west side of Montana 83 to the south end of Lindbergh Lake.

The Forest Service anticipates logging and sapling thinning would occur on about 1,400 acres.

Among other impacts, the project would build about 5.9 miles of temporary roads.

U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy has ruled the Forest Service’s review of potential impacts to wildlife and water howellia has been inadequate.

Four years ago, Molloy blocked the project and directed the Forest Service to conduct additional analyses of Glacier Loon’s impacts. Later, in January 2016, he denied a petition from the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift his injunction.

Now, the Forest Service stands poised to ask the court to reconsider. The agency reported recently that Chip Weber, supervisor of the Flathead National Forest, had signed a final decision for the Glacier Loon project.

“We will be petitioning the court to lift the injunction,” said Janette Turk, a spokeswoman for Flathead National Forest.

That will happen, she said, “as soon as the Office of the General Counsel gives us direction.”

The conservation groups that sought the original injunction don’t sound ready to roll over.

Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the latest decision from the Forest Service still lacks proper analysis of impacts, especially regarding critical habitat for Canada lynx, but also for potentially increasing grizzly bear mortality.

“It’s basically the same as the original,” Garrity said.

Keith Hammer, chairman of the Swan View Coalition, offered a similar observation.

“As far as we can tell, they’ve really changed nothing of substance,” he said. “They go back and just put more paperwork in the record.”

Meanwhile, the Forest Service said the Glacier Loon project, in addition to helping to reduce wildfire severity, could reduce the risk of insect epidemics and disease infestations in the forest. It would also provide forest products to the local timber industry, the agency said.

Reporter Duncan Scott may be reached at 758-4407 or dadams@dailyinterlake.com.

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