Mike Garrity

Once again, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity and Council for Wildlife and Fish are challenging the Biden administration’s Forest Service on yet another massive clearcutting.

This time it’s the South Plateau Project, right on the border of Yellowstone National Park. Yes, you read that right – Biden’s Forest Service is planning to clearcut the National Forests surrounding Yellowstone and our only hope of stopping them is going to court to force this rogue, law-breaking agency to follow the law.

For wildlife, there is no “boundary” around Yellowstone National Park. The forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which extends well beyond the Park boundaries, provide critical habitat for wildlife.

But these forests also store significant amounts of carbon dioxide to slow the rapidly escalating climate emergency – and make no mistake, it is an emergency that President Biden has vowed to address. But how can the President address it when his Forest Service continues massive deforestation by logging even more than the Trump administration?

When it comes to this particular project, the illegalities are legion. The agency failed to disclose the climate change impacts in blatant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Those impacts include not only the logging’s effects on carbon storage, sequestration and global climate change but also the use of fossil fuel engines to bulldoze roads, clearcut forests, and transport logs to mills.

How bad is it? The agency failed to even tell the public precisely where, when, or how it would bulldoze roads and clearcut the National Forest. Of course, that makes it impossible for the public, who own these forests, to review and analyze the project’s impacts as required by law. The project is so vague and lacking in detail, even the Environmental Protection Agency criticized the plan in its comments.

The Forest Service is also violating its own rules by bulldozing in up to 56 miles of roads when its own Forest Plan limits the amount of roads in secure grizzly bear for a very good reason – most grizzly bears, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act, are killed within 1/3 of a mile of a logging road.

The same goes for restrictions on logging in lynx habitat – which, like the grizzlies, are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service is trying to get around the habitat protections by facetiously claiming the entire area is in a Wildland Urban Interface. But the legal definition of a Wildland Urban Interface is 1 1/2 miles from a community -- not miles into the back country on the border of Yellowstone National Park.

The bottom line is Biden’s climate pledges are meaningless unless his Forest Service ceases its ever-increasing and illegal logging. When the Forest Service continues to break the law to “get the cut out” for the timber industry, the courts are the only recourse to protect the National Forests that are the world’s best carbon sinks.

This is a battle we should not have to fight under a president who vowed to seriously deal with climate change. But we do have to fight. The Alliance would greatly appreciate any help you can give us to force the federal government to follow the law and protect essential habitat so native species – and humans – don’t go extinct from the ravages of climate change.

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.