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Environmental advocates sue over Ashley National Forest Aspen Restoration Project

Forest Service personnel carry out aspen restoration efforts in Montana in 2011.
U.S. Forest Service
Forest Service personnel carry out aspen restoration efforts in Montana in 2011.

The U.S. Forest Service is facing a lawsuit over new efforts to improve aspen health in Ashley National Forest.

Approved last year, the Ashley National Forest Aspen Restoration Project aims to improve aspen health in the forest by making sure there’s an even distribution of ages.

The Forest Service says Ashley aspens skew older right now, which makes the population as a whole more vulnerable to catastrophic fires or other disasters.

Both logging and planting are among the tools the Forest Service authorized itself to use to restore younger trees.

But four environmental advocacy organizations say “restoration” is a misnomer.

“Their idea of ‘restore’ is to cut down aspen trees in roadless areas,” Mike Garrity, executive director at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), said. He said his organization has sued the Forest Service more than anyone else.

AWR sued the Forest Service together with the Center for Biological Diversity, Native Ecosystems Council and Yellowstone to Uintas Council in federal court April 24.

They accuse the feds of violating the 2001 Roadless Rule “by failing to place any limits on the size of trees to be logged.”

The Roadless Rule is the Forest Service’s policy which places prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting in roadless backcountry areas.

The agency declined to comment April 26 on pending litigation, but public documents describing the aspen restoration project explicitly say it will abide by the 2001 Roadless Rule.

Garrity said the Forest Service should target grazing instead.

“If aspen trees don't have young trees or seedlings, it's because cattle are eating the aspen shoots when they're small,” he said.

In documents describing the project, the Forest Service contends that healthy aspen groves “withstand browsing pressure from wildlife and livestock.”

The point of the restoration project, it says, is to enable the forest to self-replace.

The environmental organizations sued in the U.S. District Court for Utah. The Forest Service had yet to file a response as of April 26.