Ninth Circuit Court rules in favor of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest on Johnny Crow and Moose Creek vegetation projects
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: April 22, 2020

HELENA, Mont. (Apr. 9, 2020) –The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest on Apr. 7 affirming that both the Johnny Crow Wildlife Habitat Improvement Project and Moose Creek Vegetation Project comply with all applicable laws, rejecting all claims asserted by the plaintiffs and clearing the way for these project to proceed.  The Johnny Crow project was designed to maintain and improve wildlife habitat for a variety of wildlife species in the Elkhorn Mountains while the Moose Creek project was approved following a collaborative process under the Farm Bill authority for insect and disease vegetation treatments in the Moose Creek area of the Little Belt Mountains.

“We are pleased that our decisions and analyses were upheld and to be able to move forward.  I want to acknowledge the importance of these projects and the amount of work our folks put into them,” said Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Bill Avey. “We want to thank our partners, including the Elkhorn Restoration Committee/Big Elk Divide Collaborative and Broadwater County for their continued support to improve wildlife habitat on the Johnny Crow project, and Meagher County and State of Montana DNRC for their backing to improve forest health through the Moose Creek project.”

The decision authorizing the Johnny Crow Wildlife Habitat Improvement Project was issued in March 2017.  In June 2017, the Native Ecosystems Council (NEC) and Montana Ecosystems Defense Council filed suit challenging the project, claiming that the Johnny Crow project violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The decision for the Moose Creek Vegetation Project was signed in February 2017 and in October 2017 NEC and Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed suit challenging the project, claiming that the Moose Creek Vegetation Project violated the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and National Environmental Policy Act.  Following favorable decisions on both projects in 2018 by the District Court of Montana, the groups brought their cases to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Johnny Crow project area is located in the Elkhorn Mountains approximately 10 air miles from Townsend, Montana.  The project authorizes vegetation treatments across approximately 13,525 acres utilizing hand slashing, girdling and mixed severity prescribed fire.  According to Denise Pengeroth, Forest Biologist and Elkhorn Coordinator, “The project will restore grass and shrubland habitat for many species including elk, mule deer, and several bird species of conservation concern.”  More information on this project is available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=47670

The Moose Creek Vegetation Project is located about 16 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, Montana and north of U.S. Highway 89.  The Moose Creek project authorizes vegetation and prescribed fire treatments on about 2,200 acres and associated road management activities to maintain or restore the structure, function, composition and connectivity of a forest system that has been adversely affected by insect and disease in the Moose Creek area of the Little Belt Mountains. More information available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=48912