When the Park Creek and Arrastra wildfires merged into one big fire last August, it burned more than half of the Stonewall Vegetation Project-area northwest of Lincoln.
Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Bill Avey says that’s reason enough to step back and assess the fire’s impacts on the project.
"Wildlife — essentially elk cover — has changed, as you would expect with a fire that size, from what we said it was in the decision," says Avey. "To a lot lesser degree, there were some impacts to soil because of the burn severity and some hydrologic impacts."
The Stonewall project was given its final approval in 2016. It authorized a combination of prescribed burns and the cutting of almost 5,000 acres of timber to improve forest health.
But last year two conservation groups, Native Ecosystems Council and The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, successfully sued to stop the project. They said it jeopardized Canada lynx and grizzly bear habitat. It’s been on hold ever since.
Alliance Executive Director Mike Garrity says the project needs to be reassessed.
"We think that’s a good idea," says Garrity. "We want them to go a step further and pull their record of decision that they made last year before they do this new analysis. We don’t believe they can do a new unbiased analysis if they keep their previous decision."
Garrity says if the Forest does that and pulls its contract with a logging company, the Alliance and Native Ecosystems Council will ask the court to dismiss their case.
Helena Lewis and Clark Forest Supervisor Bill Avey says he is not withdrawing his decision, only reviewing the changed conditions to comply with obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Forest plans to have the supplemental analysis finished by mid- to late-summer.