Middle East Fork 

Leading the witnesses

A logging project planned for the Middle East Fork forged ahead when the Forest Service awarded a 4-million-board-foot timber sale Oct. 30, despite ongoing litigation challenging the project’s legitimacy.

Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Dave Bull awarded the first of four scheduled timber sales to Hamilton’s Rocky Mountain Log Homes. Bull made the move six days after the expiration of an injunction the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had granted to the WildWest Institute and Friends of the Bitterroot.

Last spring, those conservation groups sued to stop the project’s commercial portion on the grounds that the Forest Service censored science that opposes its preferred alternative, spent more than $200,000 implementing the project before any decision had been made, selectively excluded the public from participating and failed to fully examine soil issues. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy rejected the groups’ injunction request, but in August an appeals court granted a 60-day injunction that expired Oct. 24. A hearing on the injunction’s merits is scheduled for Nov. 15 and the case itself will go before Molloy Dec. 8.

Matthew Koehler, director of the WildWest Institute, says the injunction’s expiration was an oversight on the conservationists’ part.

“There was an assumption on our part that because we were having these court cases coming up, the Forest Service would not go forward and issue a contract,” says Koehler, who adds that the groups sought an emergency renewal of the injunction the day after the agency awarded the timber sale, but were denied.

Bull and Pat Connell of Rocky Mountain Log Homes say they were surprised when the injunction expired and concluded that the conservationists had dropped their opposition to the project, though Koehler calls the claim “impossible,” since both sides have been busily preparing documents for the upcoming court dates.

Bull says he thinks it’s reasonable for the agency to move ahead before a court rules on the case because the project impacts the safety of residents, but Koehler frames it differently: “What this means is that centuries-old trees will be falling down as part of this logging project before the merits of our case are even heard.”

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