Logging will not go forward in Hyalite Canyon ruled a federal judge in Missoula on Friday. Judge Donald Molloy granted an expeditious preliminary injunction at the conclusion of the court hearing in which four conservation groups challenged Gallatin National Forest Supervisor David Garber's decision to proceed with the controversial Hyalite II timber sale. The groups, American Wildlands, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council (MEDC), Native Forest Network, and the Sierra Club, were represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorneys Laura Ziemer and James Angell, who argued that the Forest Service's decision violated two fundamental environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Hyalite Canyon is the most popular National forest recreation area in the state of Montana and is also the municipal watershed for the town of Bozeman, located just eight miles north.
"This is great news for the more than 600 concerned citizens who took the time to write to the Forest Service in opposition to this timber sale, attended public meetings and rallied in front of the federal building," said Rob Ament of American Wildlands. "The Forest Service wouldn't listen, but at least the court did."
The controversial sale was originally offered under the Salvage rider, but withdrawn at the direction of Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman due to public outcry. The Forest Service offered the sale again this year in an effort to "get the cut out" on the Gallatin National forest. This time, with environmental laws enforced, the sale was found to be illegal.
"We are very much indebted to those Governing Board members who voted to support these particular minimum flows and levels for their foresight in recognizing that long term economic viability can only be achieved through environmental sustainability," said Becky Ayech, President of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida (ECOSWF). Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund has represented ECOSWF in public hearings and workshops regarding the minimum flows and levels established.
"We are pleased that no logging will take place in Hyalite Canyon this fall," said Ziemer, who works in the Bozeman office of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "If we had not obtained this court ruling, logging could start tomorrow and end the summer's peace and quiet in Hyalite."
Conservationists were particularly upset with the decision because logging was coupled with a Forest Plan amendment that would have allowed excessive roading to remain which is detrimental to wildlife and recreation.
"This was a bait and switch decision," stated Sherm Janke of the Sierra Club. "Originally, it was a timber sale and now it institutionalizes over 50 miles of roads and motorized trails in Hyalite Canyon in violation of Forest Plan wildlife standards."
"Hopefully, the Forest Service will take this time to reassess its position on Hyalite," said Steve Kelly, director of MEDC. "Gallatin Valley residents need a local area that is protected for future recreation and wildlife."
University of Utah Economist Michael Garrity estimated that Hyalite II would lose over a quarter-million dollars. "When will the Forest Service quit pouring the taxpayers' money into a sale that nobody wants?" questioned Phil Knight of the Native Forest Network.