MISSOULA — A lawsuit challenging a logging project near Libby is gaining some stiff opposition.
Two weeks ago, the American Forest Resource Council, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition and Lincoln County requested to be allowed to intervene on behalf of the Kootenai National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service in a lawsuit challenging the proposed Ripley Project southeast of Libby.
The interveners said they are relying on the project’s timber for their economy, and a few members of the resource council and coalition have already bought the timber sales. Meanwhile, many Lincoln County residents were counting on the logging jobs, while others worry about wildfire near their homes. Finally, the groups said they need to have their say because the Forest Service doesn’t share the economic incentive or wildfire worries of the locals.
On Nov. 22, Missoula federal magistrate judge Kathleen DeSoto granted their request, saying they met the legal requirements for interveners: They made the request in a timely manner; they have a “significantly protectable” interest and could be negatively affected by the outcome; and the main party – in this case, the Forest Service – wouldn’t adequately represent their interest.
The American Forest Resource Council is a Portland, Ore.,-based regional trade association that advocates for logging projects on Western public lands, weighing in on federal and state laws and decisions regarding forest lands. The Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition is a northwest Montana coalition of recreationalists, business owners, timber operators and conservationists.
“AFRC is pleased to join our county and collaborative partners in defending this very important project to protect Libby and other nearby communities as well as to promote forest resilience on the Kootenai National Forest,” said AFRC General Counsel Sara Ghafouri in a release. “Action is needed because Lincoln County has the most acres at risk from catastrophic wildfire events than any other county in the state and ranks the highest for the percentages of structures that are at very high or extreme risk from wildfire.”
Stimson Lumber Company also bought one of the timber sales but chose not to intervene, said Stimson procurement manager David Brummer. However, Stimson will file a formal declaration on behalf of the project.
Approved in May, the Ripley Project created four timber sales to commercially log almost 17 square miles, 30% of which would be clearcuts, near the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. To move the logs, the Kootenai National Forest would build 13 miles of permanent road and 6 miles of temporary road while maintaining almost 100 miles of existing road over the course of 25 years. The Forest Service estimates the project would require $643,000 in taxpayer dollars even with the timber sales.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued in September…