A federal judge has halted parts of a major U.S. Forest Service fuel reduction project outside Helena, in a lawsuit filed by conservation and environmental groups.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen made the ruling this week.
The case involves the Tenmile-South Helena Project, which includes more than 17,000 acres of vegetation treatment, road and trail work, and watershed improvements in the mountains southwest of Helena, on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Helena Hunters and Anglers, the Montana Wildlife Federation, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystem Council challenged the project in court.
Christensen blocked the Forest Service from logging with mechanized equipment in the Lazyman Gulch Inventoried Roadless Area, between Unionville and Rimini. He sided with Helena Hunters and Anglers, who argued the agency hadn’t given a full representation of the road development that would be needed to bring in logging equipment. In his ruling, Christensen
The judge also stopped work on adding or improving recreational trails in the project area, ruling in favor of Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ claim that the agency hadn’t done enough to determine how the work would affect grizzly bears.
However, Christensen allowed the rest of the project to move forward, pointing to its importance and “time-sensitive nature.”
State and local leaders and the USFS have identified the Tenmile-South Helena Project as a priority for reducing wildfire risk and protecting Helena’s water supply.