AWR Blog

Alliance for the Wild Rockies wins court challenge to ineffective road closures in Kootenai Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones

“In a nutshell,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, “the Forest Service contended that if it puts a berm on an existing road it’s considered effectively closed to motorized traffic. We showed the court that people were driving not only on supposedly closed roads, but also on illegal roads in grizzly bear habitat and the Court ruled in our favor.

The Forest Service’s Environmental Impact Statement for logging in the Kootenai National Forest presumed no motorized access would occur behind berms in grizzly bear habitat.  But that assumption has proven false. As noted by the Court in the Order issued today: “The record shows chronic deviations from the effective closures envisioned in the Biological Opinion.”

“Roads are the major source of grizzly bear mortality,” Garrity explained.  “In its 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned that ‘roads probably pose the most imminent threat to grizzly habitat today.’  That’s why the Forest Service has restrictions on the total number of roads in grizzly bear habitat since most grizzly bears are illegally killed within 500 yards of a road.”

Researchers conducted a survey of berm-closure effectiveness in the Kootenai National Forest in 2017 and discovered numerous berms that failed to effectively prevent motorized access.  “Simply put, the Forest Service assumed closed roads are not open to motorized use,” Garrity continued.  “But photographs showed people were driving over and around the berms.

“Because the berms on closed roads are not effective at preventing motorized access, the Alliance challenged the federal agencies in court to keep the dwindling population of grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak region from going extinct,” Garrity said.  “As the Court found, ‘the continued uncertainty as to the scope of illegal use weighs in favor of Alliance’ and ordered the Forest Service to fully account for the linear miles of non-closed roads in the area and, if it’s going to count a road as closed, to make the closure completely impassable to motorized vehicles.

“Obviously the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service aren’t doing their job to recover the grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak since there are only about half the number of bears considered necessary to prevent inbreeding and the recovery of this isolated population,“ Garrity concluded.  “The Court agreed with us and ordered the Forest Service to re-consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and issue a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.  Until this is done, road-building in Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear habitat must stop.”


BACKGROUND:  The Kootenai National Forest authorized the Pilgrim Creek Timber Sale project in 2013.  The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed suit over the project alleging that the violated the Kootenai National Forest Plan Access Amendments, specifically noting that the miles of roads behind earthen berms should be included in the calculation of linear miles of total roads in grizzly bear habitat on the Kootenai National Forest. While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the miles of road behind earthen berms did not count in the linear miles of total roads in grizzly bear habitat it noted that “any closure that fails to effectively prevent motorized access also fails to comply with Standard II(B) of the Access Amendments.”  The Alliance filed its lawsuit on this case, April 6, 2018

Click below to read the Court’s Order.



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