Federal Violation Halts Logging Project
Forest Service suspend Horsefly Project due to goshawk habitat concern.
In a significant ruling, a federal judge has stopped progress on a logging project near White Sulphur Springs. The Horsefly Project, managed by the Forest Service, was a logging initiative intended to thin, harvest, and burn thick timber while simultaneously attempting to restore aspen and meadows. The project was set to take place over the next 20 years in the Little Belt Mountains, just 20 miles north of the county seat. Last week, a federal court judge put a stop to the Horsefly Project following the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to account for a steadily declining population of goshawks in the area, effectively violating federal law. As validly argued by environmental agencies, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems, both the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not properly evaluate the impact on the species, which is an old-growth forest measure important to the local ecosystem. Originally, federal magistrate Kathleen L. DeSoto’s findings were objected to by the federal agencies facilitating the Horsefly Project, as well as the American Forest Resource Council. The Forest Service had claimed that the logging project would not affect goshawk nesting territories. However, DeSoto noted that data indicated a decline in the goshawk population and that the project would likely have a negative impact on the species. As mandated by federal law, if the goshawk population declines by more than 10%, additional research and study are required. In late June, Judge Dana L. Christensen affirmed DeSoto’s initial findings, effectively halting the project. The Horsefly Project proposed logging over 5,000 acres and burning 2,300 acres of goshawk nesting habitat. However, records showed a significant decline in active goshawk nests from 38 in 2016 to eight in 2019, which was not disclosed to the public. Both Magistrate Kathleen L. DeSoto and Judge Dana L. Christensen found that the Forest Service's failure to disclose this information and consider it in their project analysis violated federal laws. Consequently, last week, Christensen affirmed DeSoto's decision to halt the project and remand it to the Forest Service for re-evaluation with the goshawk data included, potentially limiting or stopping the project. While environmental coalitions also raised concerns about impacts on grizzly bears and elk, the court ruled that the Forest Service had adequately addressed these issues, leaving the issue with the case solely to the potential impact on the goshawks species.