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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A federal judge sided with environmentalists in a lawsuit over a timber project on the north side of Hebgen Lake.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled that the U.S. Forest Service needs to take another look at the North Hebgen Multiple Resource Project’s potential impacts on habitat for wolverines and elk.

The ruling keeps the 5,600-acre project on hold and delivers a win to Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, which sued over the project in 2018. The groups argue the work threatens wildlife habitat near the lake north of West Yellowstone.

Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said in a statement that the ruling will prevent logging companies from tearing up land just outside Yellowstone National Park.

“Both conservationists and local homeowners in the area were united in opposition to this public-lands giveaway,” Garrity said. “I’m happy to report that in the end, justice prevailed.”

Jason Brey, the Forest Service’s Hebgen Lake district ranger, said the agency is considering its options for moving ahead with the work. He said the decision delays work the agency thinks is important, including thinning trees near homes and work to boost white bark pine and aspen trees.

“That continues to be on the back burner until we can get the litigation resolved,” Brey said.

Forest officials approved the project in 2017. It covers 5,670 acres and calls for 15.6 miles of temporary road. Court documents say the project would take between eight and 12 years.

Three contracts were awarded for the work, according to Brey, but little of that work has happened.

The project was first blocked in August 2018. Judge Christensen ordered an injunction over Canada lynx, a type of big cat listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The ruling forced the Forest Service to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the project’s effect on the species.

That work is done. But in the ruling filed last Friday, the judge found the Forest Service analysis of the project had fallen short elsewhere.

Christensen wrote the Forest Service should have conducted a site-specific biological assessment of the project’s impact on wolverines because the animals are present in the project area. The animals have been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act but are not listed as either threatened or endangered.

Christensen also found the Forest Service erred in its analysis of the project’s impacts on elk hiding cover. Forest regulations require projects to maintain a certain percentage of dense forest across “elk analysis units” to preserve habitat for the animals.

Christensen wrote that the Forest Service calculated that percentage using only Custer Gallatin National Forest land and excluded parts of the the elk analysis units that are on the Targhee and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests.

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Michael Wright can be reached at or at 582-2638.

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