Missoulian, Linda Thompson, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2011 file photo, the statue of Jesus Christ at Whitefish Mountain Resort overlooks Whitefish Lake and the Flathead Valley in Whitefish, Mont. The statue of Jesus on U.S. Forest Service land is about to be evicted amid an argument over the separation of church and state. The statue has been a curiosity to skiers at the famed Big Mountain ski hill for decades, mystifying skiers at its appearance in the middle of the woods as they cruise down a popular ski run. But the Freedom From Religion Foundation isn’t amused by the Jesus statue.

HELENA, Mont. — The U.S. Forest Service says it will re-authorize a permit for a 57-year-old statue of Jesus that had been facing eviction from a northwestern Montana ski resort.

The agency faced a firestorm of criticism from religious groups, the state's congressman and residents after it decided last fall to boot the Jesus statue from its hillside perch in the trees.

The Forest Service said Tuesday will renew a 10-year special-use permit for the Knights of Columbus Council statue. Service supervisor Chip Weber says the decision took into account that the statue "is important to the community for its historical heritage."

The agency received more than 90,000 comments on the issue.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation argues the religious statue does not belong on public land.