Black Hills National Forest management policies on fighting wildfires and mountain pine beetles have won another court challenge by environmental groups who believe the policies hurt sensitive wildlife species.
A recent decision in Wyoming federal court released Tuesday by South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley upheld an amended management plan for the Black Hills National Forest.
South Dakota joined in the lawsuit in support of the U.S. Forest Service, as did the state of Wyoming and the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, a timber industry association.
Tom Troxel of Rapid City, director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, called the court decision "great news" that strengthens the ability of the U.S. Forest Service to manage the forest in a way that fights wildfires and slows the spread of pine beetles.
"What's really great and certainly appreciated is that the state of South Dakota would intervene in this case," Troxel said. "It was an important case and the state was extremely helpful."
John Persell, a staff attorney for the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, Wyo., said the alliance and other environmental groups in the lawsuit, including the Prairie Hills Audubon Society, have until the middle of June to decide whether to appeal.
"We're still having conversations about that," Persell said.
Since the amended forest plan was adopted in 2005, timber-harvest projects have "continued to fragment and eliminate habitat for a number of forest species," Persell said.
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Of particular concern are the black-backed woodpecker, American marten and northern goshawk, which are listed as sensitive species in need of greater consideration in timber management.
"They are designated as sensitive species because they have shown a downward trend," Persell said.
The Forest Service and the state have contended that the plan considers the needs of wildlife species while also adjusting timber management to fight pine beetles and wildfires.
"While the environmental groups may be well intentioned, the pine beetle infestation requires a responsible forest plan to protect our forest, wildlife and surrounding private lands," Jackley said in a prepared statement.
Scott Jacobson, public information officer for the Black Hills National Forest in Custer, said the management plan was adjusted to deal with more expansive wildfires and the spread of pine beetles.
"This allows us to take action on the ground to mitigate those issues," he said.