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Federal judge blocks logging project, protects iconic hawk

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Mark Moran

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(Big Sky Connection) A federal court judge in Montana blocked a large project which would have logged or clear-cut more than 10,000 acres of old-growth forest and threatened an iconic bird nesting in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

In addition to logging 16 square miles, the project would have bulldozed 40 miles of new logging roads into the Little Belt Mountains.

Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the decision also protects the Northern Goshawk, an old-growth-dependent species which has declined 47 percent in the last few years. He pointed out the bird has been under constant threat of clear-cut, which Garrity noted allows competitor species to drive it out.

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"Even though they're a fairly big bird, they can fly through very tiny openings by pulling their wings in, and they can make very sharp turns," Garrity explained. "If you accidentally come close to a goshawk nest, they are very protective of their nest and they will attack people with their talons and poke out their eyes."

Garrity emphasized the U.S. Forest Service is required by its own rules to tell the public if the goshawk population declines by 10 percent, and did not. The Forest Service contended the Horsefly project, as it is known, would not affect the goshawk population but its own numbers showed the drastic decline in nesting sites and population.

It is one in a series of lawsuits filed by a coalition of environmental advocates, including the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, to protect species habitat. Garrity stressed the Horsefly ruling is important for the goshawk but the threats do not stop there.

"It's also important for other mature and old growth forest-dependent species, such as pine martin, lynx and forest birds," Garrity outlined. "Which are all in decline."

The court dismissed other parts of the case, including claims roads would interfere with grizzly bear habitat and threaten the elk population.