LARAMIE, Wyo.– Conservation groups on Monday filed official objections challenging one of the largest logging and road construction projects in Wyoming history, the Landscape Analysis Vegetation Project, or LaVA, on the National Forest of Medicine Bow in southern Wyoming.
The project would allow logging of up to 320,000 acres over the next 15 years, including up to 95,000 clearcut acres, as well as 80,000 acres of logging in designated road-free areas. It would raze 600 miles of new temporary roads that can sit on the ground for eight years or more, damaging waterways and degrading the watershed.
Logging will destroy the habitat of the endangered lynx and the elusive pine marten, a small forest carnivore in the weasel family. The project will cost taxpayers nearly $ 250 million.
Groups, including WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity, objected to the scale of the project, proposed levels of road construction, loss of wildlife habitat, impacts on non-road areas. inventoried and the lack of meaningful analysis of climate change and economic impacts. .
The forest service has also violated environmental disclosure laws, the groups said, by failing to identify where in the nearly 1,000 square mile project area the agency plans to cut or build roads – data necessary to understand the impacts of the project.
“With this latest proposal, the Forest Service insists on moving forward with a ‘jump first, watch later’ approach where they won’t reveal any specific details on the ground until they’ve given themselves the power to do everything. the proposed logging and road construction, ”said Connie Wilbert of the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The Forest Service gave its initial approval to the project last year, but withdrew the decision to further address the impacts of temporary roads and other deficiencies in response to vigorous public opposition. The proposed new decision, released last month, is largely the same as the 2019 proposal, but limits new roads open at any time to 75 miles.
“Creating 600 miles of so-called ‘temporary’ roads over the next 15 years is unprecedented,” said Adam Rissien, rewilding advocate at Wild Earth Guardians. “And while the agency claims it will limit the number of roads open at all times, it does little to protect fish and wildlife habitat. Temporary, according to the Forest Service, means these roads will be open for up to eight years before rehabilitation begins, and then will take many more years to fully recover, during which time they will continue to fragment wildlife habitat and threaten wildlife. sediment streams. . “
Areas without roads are among the wildest and most remote forests, sources of pure water and bastions of biodiversity. They enjoy special legal protection under the 2001 conservation rule for road-free areas. Groups claim that the LaVA project violates this law by ignoring provisions that logging in road-free areas cannot be done. produce only “rarely” and only to protect values without a road.
“Forests without roads protect large chunks of wildlife habitat, important sources of drinking water and remote recreational opportunities,” said Ted Zukoski, lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The law requires Forest Service officials to pay special attention to these places. Instead, they house chainsaws and heavy equipment in two dozen areas that total nearly twice the size of the District of Columbia. The LaVA project needs to return to the drawing board.
The groups also show that peer-reviewed scientific studies undermine the key foundations of the project – the Forest Service’s unsubstantiated assumption that logging in a ‘thin’ forest would increase resilience and reduce the risk of fire due to fire. beetle epidemics. Emerging science shows that trees that survive infestations may in fact be more resilient and should not be felled. And many recent studies show that drought and weather conditions are the most important factor in determining fire behavior, not insect outbreaks. Rather than disclose and respond to the findings of these studies, as required by law, the Forest Service removed all reference to them from its most recent biological assessment.
“Many studies show that logging will not reduce the risk of fire, and putting these studies under the rug will not improve the functioning of this project or improve the safety of neighboring communities,” said Rissien. . “If the Forest Service doesn’t face the facts, it risks dumping hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain while destroying wildlife habitat, waterways and the beauty of unique wilderness landscapes.