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Montana Forest Project Collaboration Faces Court Test

February 29, 2012

MISSOULA, Mont. - Headlines about a forest project being contested in court are nothing new in Montana, although one filing has come as a surprise to many.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies is suing over the Colt Summit Forest Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project in the Lolo National Forest - a project crafted by locals, scientists and conservation groups. Now, Missoula County is moving to defend the project.

Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss says the project was designed to improve fire safety and create jobs through limited timber production, while also keeping in mind the area's large, intact ecosystem.

"It has all the plants and animals that were there when Lewis and Clark came through - the lynx, the grizzly bear, the bull trout. This project reviewed all of that, to make sure that we will continue to have that."

Lewis and Clark and Powell counties are adding their names in a court brief to defend the project, along with more than two dozen other agencies, groups and individuals - including Montana State Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies contends that the timber sale portion of the project would lose money, and destroy elk, lynx and grizzly habitat.

Seeley Lake Fire Chief Frank Maradeo says not everyone agreed with every point in the plan but did agree on the larger goals of jobs, habitat improvement and reducing fire danger - especially in light of the 2007 Jocko Lakes fire.

"The community is obviously very sensitive to the devastation of wildland fire. The area that they're going to be working in is high-priority for the safety of our fire district."

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and The Wilderness Society area also filing to support the project.

A legal decision on the project is expected this summer.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT