Bozeman Municipal Watershed Logging Project

Snow falls lightly on pine trees south of Bozeman on Nov. 29.

Federal attorneys are arguing a long-delayed timber project south of Bozeman won’t impede Canada lynx movement and doesn’t need more environmental review before it can go forward.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys made those arguments in a brief filed last week as part of their attempt to convince a judge to lift the injunction blocking the Forest Service’s proposed Bozeman Municipal Watershed and East Boulder projects.

The brief was just the latest filing in the long-running legal battle over the two projects, which were first proposed in 2011. It was a response to the Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ November brief arguing against letting the projects go forward. It brings the court closer to a decision on whether to lift the injunction ordered by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in 2013.

In the 12-page brief, the attorneys argue that the work won’t cause significant harm to “matrix habitat” — areas between patches of forest where the federally-protected lynx might travel. They also argue federal officials shouldn’t have to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement for the projects.

The Bozeman Municipal Watershed project calls for about 4,700 acres of thinning and burning in the Hyalite and Bozeman creek drainages, the streams that feed Bozeman’s water supply. The city of Bozeman backs the work, arguing it’s needed to protect its water treatment facility. The East Boulder project consists of a few hundred acres of logging southeast of Big Timber.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council sued over both projects in 2012, raising concerns about the wildlife impacts. Among the concerns was a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation of critical habitat for lynx, which expanded the area protected by federal laws meant to help recover the species.

Judge Christensen sided with the groups, blocking the projects and ordering the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on lynx impacts. That work is done, and the Forest Service requested this fall that the injunction be lifted, beginning the back-and-forth arguments between lawyers for both sides.

Attorneys for the environmentalists wrote in their November brief that there were many issues still unresolved, and that matrix habitat was completely overlooked by the federal officials tasked with reviewing the projects’ impacts. They wrote that the Forest Service should spend more time reviewing that issue and others before letting the projects advance.

In their response, federal attorneys wrote the effects on matrix habitat would be “insignificant” because the work wouldn’t create barriers to lynx movement. They also wrote that the agencies followed all applicable environmental laws, had consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service and didn’t need to do any further review.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.