A U.S. District Court judge ruled a habitat management project in west-central Montana designed to benefit wildlife will go forward as planned. The Johnny Crow Project will utilize prescribed burning and the removal of invasive junipers into grasslands in the Elkhorn Mountains as part of an effort to rejuvenate forage for elk and other wildlife.
The judge denied claims by two environmental groups and ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and partners.
“This is a big win-win,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “It is a victory for wildlife and it is a victory for the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Like so many other areas in elk country, it is in need of active treatments to create early seral conditions of grasslands, sage brush and forbs that are vital for bird and animal life.”
In March 2017, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest issued what’s called a “categorical exclusion” which exempts the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from completing an environmental assessment for certain actions determined to not significantly impact the environment. In January 2018, RMEF filed a brief in support of the USFS decision.
“We have seen time and time again that active management with a focus on wildlife habitat in the form of prescribed burns, thinning and other treatments triggers the growth of new grasses and forbs that benefits elk and a wide array of wildlife species,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer.
The Elkhorn Mountains lie within a unique wildlife management situation. Managed jointly by the USFS, Bureau of Land Management and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, they are within the only unit in the entire Forest Service system that is designated by Congress with a focus on wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The Elkhorns are also recognized as a location featuring some of the best elk hunting in Montana.
In a somewhat similar case, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied claims by several environmental groups approximately six months ago and ruled in favor of active forest management in southwestern Montana.
“We have seen time and time again that interference by environmental groups only thwarts efforts by wildlife habitat and forest managers to try to improve the condition of our forests. Such litigation only harms forests and wildlife as litigants seek payouts in the form of taxpayer dollars to pad their bottom line,” added Weaver.
RMEF is a long-time advocate for active habitat and forest management as a benefit for wildlife and wild landscapes.