Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
Mike Bader, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 721-4835
Dan Rohlf, Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, (503) 768-6707
Marc Fink, Western Environmental Law Center, (208) 342-2216
Conservation Groups File Suit in Federal District Court in Missoula to Prevent Grizzly Bear Extinction in the Cabinet-Yaak/Selkirk Region
MISSOULA—Local conservation groups today turned to the federal courts to protect critically endangered grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak/Selkirk region in northwest Montana, northern Idaho and northeast Washington. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and The Lands Council seek to overturn new rules for the Kootenai, Idaho Panhandle, and Lolo National Forests that will allow the mammoth network of logging roads to continue killing grizzly bears, paving their way to extinction.
“Grizzly bears are dying each year, as these small populations struggle for survival,” said Marc Fink of the Western Environmental Law Center. “The agencies must stop delaying and avoiding the tough choices that are necessary to allow these bears to recover.”
“Amazingly, the same agency which just a few years ago cited the existing road network as a leading factor in its ‘warranted for endangered status’ finding, now says this same network will not jeopardize grizzly bears,” said Dan Rohlf of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center. “This status quo approach is a dead-end road to grizzly bear extinction.”
In 1999, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that reclassification of the grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk areas from threatened to endangered was warranted, due to the extremely low population size (estimated at around 30-40 bears in each area), and the extensive road network in the region.
Due to the tiny size of these populations (scientists have estimated that populations of 30-40 face an approximately 95% chance of extinction within 100 years), the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan has a goal of zero human-caused mortality in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk areas. However, since 1999, there have been an alarming number of grizzly bear deaths, particularly amongst reproductive age females, the most critical component of the populations. In the Cabinet-Yaak there have been a minimum of 19 grizzly bear deaths, including 7 females and a number of cubs. In the Selkirk there have been at least 13 grizzly deaths, including 3 females. Moreover, government scientists have found that 72% of the known deaths in the Cabinet-Yaak/Selkirk are human-caused, and 77% of these deaths occurred within 1/3 mile from an open road.
“The science clearly shows that roads harm grizzly bears, and we know there are over 26,000 miles of logging roads on these national forests,” said Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Despite these facts, the Forest Serviceís new plan essentially fixes the level of total roads in place and finds it will not harm grizzly bears.”
Under the new rules, less than 1/10th of one percent of the roads will be closed and obliterated, and in some Bear Management Units the total percentage of “core, secure” habitat will actually be reduced from current levels.
“Unfortunately, the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not even follow their own regulations,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies and a professional economist. “The Forest Service could create a lot more jobs and save taxpayers a lot of money by restoring this area rather than building even more roads and having money losing timber sales in this critical grizzly bear habitat. The four timber sales named in our lawsuit are expected to lose over $7 million”
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and The Lands Council are represented in the matter by Dan Rohlf, with the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, Marc Fink of the Western Environmental Law Center, and Timothy Bechtold, an attorney in Missoula, Montana.