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Conservation Groups Mull Options After Forest Service's Medicine Bow Decision

The Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis Project will allow clear-cut logging on 86,119 acres. (Calibas/Wikimedia Commons)
The Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis Project will allow clear-cut logging on 86,119 acres. (Calibas/Wikimedia Commons)
August 20, 2020

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Conservation groups are weighing their options to protect habitat and watersheds after the U.S. Forest Service issued its final decision last week to allow logging on more than 235,000 acres, and bulldozing 600 miles of new roads in the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming.

Adam Rissien, rewilding advocate for the group WildEarth Guardians, said the plan is a boon for the commercial logging industry, but will put many wildlife species in the area at risk.

"Roads fragment habitat," Rissien said. "When you have increased road density, you have decreased habitat security for a range of wildlife species including elk, lynx, and the list actually goes on and on."

Rissien said roads also send more dirt into streams when it rains, which can impact watersheds and fish populations.

The Forest Service has argued thinning forests will increase resiliency and reduce the risk of wildfire from beetle outbreaks.

The plan is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $250 million.

Rissien said the Forest Service still has not identified where within the nearly 1,000-square-mile project area the agency plans to log or build roads; data he says is needed to fully evaluate the plan's impacts.

Rissien believes claims about preventing wildfire are just a way to justify clear-cutting and commercial logging.

"The Forest Service actually scrubbed scientific evidence that showed logging won't lower the fire risk," Rissien said. "Recent studies show that drought and weather conditions are the most significant factor in determining fire behavior, not insect outbreak."

Originally proposed in 2017 under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, the Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis Project stalled after conservation groups filed official objections.

Rissien said his group has not ruled out legal action to block the plan going forward.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY