Groups sue Forest Service over Middleman Project near Helena

Two Montana conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday to halt a 20-year logging and burning project on public land in the Big Belt Mountains in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest northeast of Helena, saying it would harm the area’s elk herd as well as grizzly bears and lynx.

The 51-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula by the Native Ecosystems Council and Alliance for the Wild Rockies asks the judge to vacate the U.S. Forest Service decision.

The lawsuit states the Middleman Project in the Big Belt, which is a key linkage zone for grizzly bears trying genetic exchange between the Yellowstone and Glacier national park areas, is illegal because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

The plaintiffs also say the Forest Service failed to analyze reasonable alternatives for the project that stretches from the southern border of the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness almost to Canyon Ferry. They also allege the Forest Service didn’t fully address Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ concerns; and didn’t show compliance with the 2012 NFMA planning regulations.

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