Two Complaints Say Montana Soldier-Butler Project Will Harm the Environment

Two complaints were filed against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Forest Service by environmental organizations in the District of Montana claiming that the defendants did not take into account the environmental impact of the Soldier-Butler Project. 

The first lawsuit was filed on Friday by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (Alliance) which said the decisions approving the project were “arbitrary and capricious” and not in accordance with the laws, specifically the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The second lawsuit was filed on Monday by the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force it claims the defendants violated the APA along with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). 

The Soldier-Butler Project is located in the Lolo National Forest, the Forest Service reportedly said the project would have “no significant impact” in a decision on April 17. A revised opinion issued on October 2, 2020 did not change the decision. The project involves about 45,160 acres of the Lolo National Forest. The defendants plan included adding 7 miles of paved road, 9.4 miles of temporary road, and 35.4 miles of “undetermined roads” It is scheduled to be implemented for 8-10 years and would also give vegetation treatments and remove board feet of timber.

The Alliance and the Task Force each said their members use the Lolo National Forest for recreational activities, and that the project has adversely affected their ability to enjoy the area. The acres in the forest have reportedly already been thinned in the last decade. 

The parties also said the project would have negative effects on the environment, specifically on the bear habitats. The Alliance said the defendants violated the Endangered Species Act, specifically relating to standards for female grizzly bears and that the Forest Service did not take into account the “best scientific and commercial data” relating to the impact of “motorized use of administratively closed roads and a history of road closure violations.” 

In both cases, the plaintiffs asked the court for injunctive relief enjoining the defendants from implementing the project and a determination that it violates federal laws. The Alliance is represented by Akland Law Firm, PLLC and the Task Force is represented by Bechtold Law Firm, PLLC.