HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An on-again, off-again logging project in the Kootenai National Forest may be going ahead after a federal judge refused to delay it during the appeal of a lawsuit that claims threatened grizzly bear habitat would be harmed.
The project, which calls for logging more than 900 acres and burning 2,140 acres, is based on sound science and should not harm the bears' habitat, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote in his order Thursday.
"In fact, given the evidence, studies and analysis marshaled by the agencies, it could be postulated that enjoining the project is more likely to irreparably harm the grizzly bear than allowing the project to proceed," Molloy wrote.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had issued a two-week block on the Grizzly Project while Molloy was considering the Alliance for the Wild Rockies' request for an injunction during the appeal of its lawsuit.
The conservation organization's appeal challenges a previous ruling by Molloy allowing the project to proceed. The group originally sought an injunction from the 9th Circuit, saying the project would likely be completed before the appellate court had a chance to weigh in.
But the 9th Circuit judges ruled the group first had to make the injunction request to Molloy.
Molloy denied the request in his Thursday order. If the project goes ahead, the conservation group will again ask the 9th Circuit to block it, Alliance for the Wild Rockies executive director Mike Garrity said Friday.
The 9th Circuit's temporary two-week block expires Monday. Quinn Carver, natural resources and planning staff officer for the Kootenai National Forest, said the contractor should not have any impediments to starting the logging project after that date.
Garrity disputed that, saying the Forest Service must first receive the appellate court's permission to proceed with the project.
The differing accounts could not immediately be reconciled.
"We'll just take what the court gives us. We've got a good project out there for the forest and for grizzly bears," Carver said.
The project is meant to improve the forest's health and the bears' habitat through road closures and vegetation treatments, the Forest Service said.
The conservation group says commercial logging and road-building could harm the threatened Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population that lives in the forest. There are about 40 of the bears, whose target population for recovery is 100, and their numbers are declining.