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A cut tree sits in an area previously thinned in a USFS logging project in the Custer Gallatin National Forest in this 2018 Chronicle file photo.

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Several environmental groups have requested that the Forest Service address their concerns over a West Yellowstone-area logging project, citing concerns over the project’s compliance with federal law.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians filed an objection to the South Plateau Area Landscape Treatment Project on April 23. In it, they claimed the project would destroy habitat and violate the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest has held that the work will improve ecosystem health, make forests more resilient to insects and disease and reduce wildfire fuels throughout the Hebgen Lake Ranger District.

“The South Plateau is dominated by lodgepole forests of similar age and poor condition that are highly susceptible to widespread and long-term loss due to natural events such as insects, disease and wildfire,” officials wrote.

“By implementing treatments on susceptible stands across the Plateau, the project gains diversity and resilience on a broad landscape scale.”

The South Plateau project calls for up to 16,500 acres of work spread out over an approximately 40,000-acre area. The project area in the Custer Gallatin National Forest would stretch south from Highway 20 and west from the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

There would be up to 9,000 acres of forest thinning, 5,600 acres of scattered clear cuts and 600 acres of prescribed burns, among other treatments. Up to 57 miles of temporary roads could be built, according to the draft decision.

Workers would close Road 478 along the South Fork of the Madison River to the public and open Road 1704 to maintain access.

The Forest Service issued a draft decision notice, final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact on the South Plateau project earlier this year. This prompted a 45 day objection period on Feb. 23, which was re-initiated on March 9. Only the people who previously submitted comments on the project were able to object.

The four conservation groups wrote that the South Plateau project as drafted fails to note exactly where and when the Forest Service would build new roads and clear forest, and what the site-specific impacts would be. In a news release, the groups claimed that not disclosing those details is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The Forest Service shouldn’t get a blank check to scrape dozens of miles of roads and clearcut thousands of acres on Yellowstone’s doorstep. This spectacular landscape and the grizzlies, lynx and other wildlife that live there deserve better,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The greater Yellowstone area is a national treasure and the Forest Service shouldn’t keep the public in the dark about plans to log it.”

Mike Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the project will destroy prime habitat for grizzly bear, Canada lynx, elk and other wildlife species. It will also result in removal of whitebark pine, a plant species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list under the Endangered Species Act, he said.

“Clear cutting and building new logging roads does not make for good wildlife habitat,” Garrity said. “Clear cutting does not make a forest resilient. It just gets rid of the forest.”

Custer Gallatin National Forest officials did not comment on the claims before deadline.

In a February news release, Forest Service officials said their approach with the project is to address forest management on a broader landscape scale. Managers can use a variety of tools to reach goals based on site-specific conditions.

“This condition-based management provides us flexibility throughout the South Plateau project area but also establishes numerous rigid sideboards,” said Jason Brey, Hebgen Lake district ranger, in February. “One example of such a sideboard is setting parameters on habitat impacts for a specific wildlife species like grizzly bear or lynx.”

Sideboard limits layering upon one another throughout the life of the project creates a system of check and balances on all activities. The overall project impacts will meet all environmental laws and forest plan direction, according to agency officials.

The conservation groups requested that the Forest Service consider their concerns and discuss potential resolution of issues raised before moving forward with the project. The agency can approve, modify it or review the project plan further in response to objections.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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