Mission Statement and 2020 Annual Report
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) was formed in 1988 to meet the challenge of saving the Northern Rockies Bioregion from habitat destruction. We are thousands of individuals, business owners, and organizations taking a bioregional approach to protect and restore this great region.
Our mission is to secure the ecological integrity of the Wild Rockies Bioregion through citizen empowerment and the application of conservation biology, sustainable economic models, and environmental law.
We educate the public every day about the value of old-growth forests and clean mountain watersheds through our press releases and op-eds. We actively promote the conservation of biological corridors between wilderness areas so that grizzlies, lynx, wolves, bison, and countless other native species can not only survive, but thrive.
We have a huge impact despite being one of the smallest environmental organizations in the country. A membership-based, nonprofit organization, our board and advisors include some of the nation’s top scientists and conservationists, and their research and experience strongly supports the argument for the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.
Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act
In 2020 we continued our efforts to pass the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) introducing the bill in Congress as H.R. 1321 (House) and S. 827 (Senate). It will be reintroduced in the current Congress in March 2021.
Written by members of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and scientists in the Northern Rockies, NREPA is a much more sensible way to create forest jobs than subsidizing unregulated clearcutting of our wild public lands. The measure provides wilderness designation for over 23 million acres of remaining roadless forests to ensure the survival of native species in the Northern Rockies.
NREPA would put 2,300 people to work obliterating over 6,300 miles of old logging roads in wildlife corridors in the Northern Rockies. Maintaining our existing forests and restoring already-logged areas will preserve one of the planet’s most effective carbon sinks to fight global warming. It will also provide what may be our last chance to keep endangered species from extinction and contribute to our planet’s much-needed recovery from the widespread impacts of extractive industries.
We are in the middle of the earth’s Sixth Great Extinction. One of the few places where scientists think we can stop it is in the Northern Rockies, where we still have millions of acres of functioning, intact ecosystems. Science shows that providing vital biological corridors to connect the smaller ecosystems still existing within the Northern Rockies will protect native plants and animals from extinction – and that’s exactly what the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act does. Moreover, NREPA will save taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent subsidizing private corporations to loot our public forests.
Montana: Continental Divide near Helena: Alliance stops road-building, logging, and burning in tens of thousands of acres of critical Inventoried Roadless Area
We are thrilled to announce that in July the federal court ordered the Forest Service to halt logging and burning in the Lazy Man Gulch Inventoried Roadless Area and any construction of logging roads and mountain bike trails in the huge Tenmile-South Helena Project in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The court’s Order clearly identified the roadless lands in the 60,000- acre project as “biological strongholds for elk and grizzly bears and noted that the project addition of new logging roads and non-motorized mountain bike trails in grizzly bear secure areas was the determining factor in its decision since bear survival is strongly linked to the availability of secure habitat.”
Idaho’s Clearwater Drainage: Alliance challenges logging that threatens Snake River Steelhead
In July, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s U.S. Forest Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for authorizing massive logging on the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. We contend the logging violates the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act.
The Forest Service intends to build about 14 miles of new roads in the Lolo Creek watershed and log nearly 3,400 acres, including 2,644 acres of clearcuts or near clearcuts. The proposed project area is approximately 16 air miles northeast of Kamiah, Idaho. All four of the sub-watersheds affected by the project—Upper Lolo Creek, Musselshell Creek, Eldorado Creek, and Middle Lolo Creek – are Federally-designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act for Snake River Basin steelhead.
Idaho Panhandle: Grizzlies, Lynx, Bull Trout and Elk on the chopping block for Trump’s clearcuts
In May, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Idaho to stop the Brebner Flats Logging Project in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The project calls for 1,719 acres of commercial logging – including 1,109 acres of clearcuts — in an area that has recently been heavily clearcut as well as building more than six miles of new logging roads and legitimizing 1.36 miles of illegally-created roads in grizzly bear, lynx, and bull trout habitat.
Idaho: Alliance challenges massive logging and burning project next to Yellowstone National Park challenged over impacts to old-growth forest
In December, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, and Native Ecosystems Council sued the Caribou-Targhee National Forest to stop a logging and burning project in the Middle Fork of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River on the border of Yellowstone National Park.
The proposed Middle Henry’s Aspen Enhancement Project is in the Ashton/Island Park Ranger District of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest south of Island Park, Idaho, and west of Yellowstone National Park. The Middle Henry’s Fork Watershed is a remote, rural area located within Henry’s Fork caldera that sits within the Island Park Caldera of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
The Forest Service decision calls for logging and burning an astounding 42,274 acres of the Henry’s Fork watershed. To put that in perspective, the Middle Henry’s Fork watershed, at 120,000 acres, is the largest on the entire Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Trout Unlimited voted the Henry’s Fork #1 out of 100 of the nation’s best fly fishing rivers. Yet, the Forest Service refused to even do an environmental analysis or allow the public to review and comment on this draconian plan that will log and burn more than one-third of the entire watershed.
Instead, the agency is trying to stuff the project through in the final days of the Trump administration using a Categorical Exclusion to exempt the entire project from following the National Environmental Policy Act. But Categorical Exclusions were originally intended for the agency’s minor routine maintenance needs, like painting outhouses or mowing the lawn at ranger stations, not massive clearcutting and burning projects on over 40,000 acres of national forest in grizzly bear and lynx habitat right on the border of Yellowstone National Park.
Because the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct an environmental review, misrepresented the presence of endangered species in the project area, and ignored the requirements of the Targhee Forest Plan we are taking them to court to either comply with the law or drop the project. Simply put, the Middle Henry’s Aspen Enhancement Project violates a host of federal laws, will degrade the watershed for the world-famous Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, will harm grizzly bears, and will log much of the remaining old-growth forest left in the Targhee National Forest.
Wolverines: Trump Administration ignores science and the law to deny wolverines Endangered Species Act protections
In October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a decision to deny much-needed Endangered Species Act protections for imperiled wolverines, which number about 300 in the contiguous U.S. The new decision follows a 2016 Alliance for the Wild Rockies and co-plaintiffs court victory in which the federal court rejected the Service’s previous denial of protections for the species.
We were forced to file a new lawsuit because, once again, the Trump administration demonstrates that it doesn’t believe in following science or the law. Public records reveal the Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to protect wolverine from day one — and then worked backward to support their decision — which is simply against the law. They can’t decide what their analysis is going to conclude before they do the analysis, but this fits the pattern of the corrupt Trump administration.
Idaho: Federal Appeals Court rules Forest Service still in violating Forest Plan and stops 85,000 acre Payette Forest Logging and Burning Project
Two years ago, in Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. U.S., 907 F.3d 1105 (9th Cir. 2018), the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Lost Creek Boulder Creek Project violated the Payette Forest Plan and the National Forest Management Act. Late last year, the Forest Service approved the same project again, disregarding the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The latest decision the District Court issued to halt the project was not surprising considering that the Forest Service’s actions clearly violated the Ninth Circuit’s previous decision. This is a huge victory for wildlife habitat in western Idaho.
Montana: Federal Court rules Alliance can challenge federal Bull Trout Recovery Plan
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Save the Bull Trout, filed a lawsuit in November 2019 in federal court in Missoula, Montana, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bull Trout Recovery Plan. The government filed a Motion to Dismiss the case in its entirety in January, but the U.S. Magistrate Judge entered a Findings and Recommendation in May recommending that government’s Motion to Dismiss the case be denied. In July, another federal U.S. District Court Judge agreed, and formally denied the government’s Motion to Dismiss the case.
We filed our lawsuit because the federal Bull Trout Recovery Plan fails to ensure the long- term survival and recovery of the endangered bull trout, ignores the best available science, and ignores the government’s own previous findings about the status of bull trout and what they need for recovery. Instead, the Bull Trout Recovery Plan sets forth fundamentally inadequate and subjective triggers for delisting that contain no meaningful, objective, scientifically-based population or habitat thresholds.
Montana – Idaho: Forest Service withdraws its appeal of Alliance federal court victory over ineffective road closures in Selkirk & Cabinet-Yaak grizzly habitat in north Idaho and northwest Montana
In June we won our case against the Forest Service which contended that if it puts a pile of dirt, also called a “berm,” on an existing road it’s considered effectively barricaded to all motorized traffic forever. We showed the court that people were driving not only on supposedly barricaded roads but also on illegal, user-created roads in grizzly bear habitat.
The federal district court ruled in our favor back in October, 2019, and in June, 2020 the Forest Service finally dropped its Appeal on the day its Appellate Brief was due. We forced the Trump administration to concede defeat.
This means that the Forest Service can no longer just dump a load of dirt in front of a road and call it “closed” forever. The only effective way to remove a road is by fully decommissioning it, i.e. obliterating the entire road bed and returning the landscape to the natural slope. This must happen before the Forest Service builds more logging roads in occupied Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak grizzly habitat in northern Idaho and northwest Montana.
Wyoming: Alliance seeks Injunction to block grizzly killings in Upper Green River Grazing Allotment
The number of conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock in the Upper Green River area is much higher than other parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 35 grizzly bears have been killed on the Upper Green River area allotments since 2010. Yet, in 2019 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion authorizing killing up to 72 grizzly bears over ten years within the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s Upper Green River Area Rangeland Project allotments.
In January the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Watersheds Project, and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection sent the Forest Service a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue if the agency went forward with the project without complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. The agency ignored the Notice and in March we filed a lawsuit to stop the project. However, since grizzlies are already being killed, we have now asked the Court to immediately issue a Preliminary Injunction to stop the unlawful killing of threatened grizzly bears that encounter cattle on these public lands.
There are tens of millions of cows in the U.S., but only about 700 grizzly bears in the entire Greater Yellowstone ecosystem — and they’re listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act. Yet the Trump administration has decided to needlessly sacrifice up to 72 grizzlies in the vast, 267 square mile Upper Green River grazing allotment in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Idaho: Alliance files lawsuit to stop construction of natural gas pipeline
In April the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service in Idaho federal district court challenging the decision to allow construction of the Crow Creek Pipeline through five National Forest Inventoried Roadless Areas in southeast Idaho.
The Forest Service authorized a private company to clearcut a 50-foot wide, 18.2-mile-long corridor through National Forest public lands for construction of an underground natural gas pipeline in southeastern Idaho. In addition to the 50-foot right-of-way during construction, the Forest Service gave the private company a permanent 20-foot right-of-way to maintain the pipeline. There will also be above-ground facilities such as valves in addition to the pipeline itself, the utility corridor, and staging areas.
The Forest Service failed to analyze the impact of the pipeline construction on three species that may be present in the area and are listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act — grizzly bears, lynx, and the yellow-billed cuckoo. The agency also failed to analyze the impact of the project on directly adjacent lynx critical habitat.
Montana: Federal Court stops BLM Sagebrush-Juniper Burning Project in Elkhorn Mountains
The nation is in a perilous place when federal agencies refuse to comply with Federal Court orders, yet that’s just what Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did in its rush to destroy sagebrush, juniper, and limber pine habitat in the Iron Mask area of the federally-designated Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area. In July, the federal district court issued a Preliminary Injunction to stop the rogue agency in its tracks.
Two years ago the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council went to federal court to stop the BLM plan to burn sagebrush-juniper habitat in the Elkhorn Mountains near Canyon Ferry Reservoir, southwest of Townsend, Montana. One year later, a federal judge ordered the project halted because the agency failed to analyze the cumulative impacts of the project on wildlife. The BLM, however, did not comply with the Court’s Order to consider those impacts in its Supplemental Environmental Assessment and we filed suit again in late February of 2020 – then requested a Preliminary Injunction in March, which the Court issued in July.
The 300,000 acre Elkhorn Mountains are designated by both Montana and the federal government to be managed to prioritize benefits to wildlife above all other uses. But the Iron Mask project would have cut and burned sagebrush, juniper trees, and limber pine on 5,397 acres to benefit cattle, not wildlife.
Montana: Alliance challenges Blackfoot Timber sale that threatens elk, grizzly bear, bull trout and lynx habitat
In December, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Missoula challenging the Stonewall Vegetation Project in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest about four miles northwest of Lincoln, Montana, just south of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area.
The Forest Service decision authorized logging on 1,112 acres, prescribed burning on 269 acres, .9 miles of temporary road building, and road maintenance or reconstruction on 25 miles of roads. The Alliance contends proposed changes to the Forest Plan that eliminate Big Game Security and Thermal Cover standards in the project violate a number of federal laws and threaten the area’s elk herd as well as grizzly bears, bull trout, and lynx.
Montana: Alliance Challenges Huge Logging and Road-building Project in Ninemile
In October, the Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Lolo National Forest seeking to stop the Soldier Butler Timber Sale in the Ninemile Ranger District over wildlife habitat destruction due to the project’s extensive logging and road-building. The Alliance also filed a separate 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue on the project because the Forest Service did not obliterate the roads the agency previously promised to remove — which violates an agreement it made to the Fish and Wildlife Service to limit the miles of roads in the area for grizzly bear security.
The Forest Service and other federal agencies determined this area is an important linkage corridor for grizzly bears and other wildlife species such as elk. The Soldier-Butler Project will degrade this area to the extent that it will not function as a corridor for these important species.
This is another enormous ‘landscape scale’ logging and road-building project that encompasses 45,160 acres — which is more than 70 square miles. It includes a portion of the Reservation Divide Inventoried Roadless Area which, although supposedly protected by the Roadless Rule, has been routinely ignored by the Trump administration’s anti-environmental, pro-extraction Forest Service.
The Forest Service estimates that taxpayers will lose $5,122,000 on the Soldier Butler logging and burning project. That’s a direct subsidy of federal taxpayer dollars to the timber industry to seriously damage our dwindling intact National Forests and public wildlife for private profit.
Montana: “Largest logging project in memory” cancelled in Bitterroot National Forest
In September, the Bitterroot National Forest in southwestern Montana formally withdrew its decision authorizing the Gold Butterfly Project. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Bitterroot filed a lawsuit in July against the Bitterroot National Forest seeking to stop the Gold Butterfly timber sale which was called “the largest project in memory” by the Ravalli Republic.
Gold Butterfly would have been the largest, most destructive timber sale in decades on the Bitterroot National Forest. The project included old-growth logging, clearcutting, road building, destruction of wildlife habitat, and threatened spawning streams for endangered bull trout. Although it was broadly opposed by the public, the Forest Service ignored citizen input and a viable alternative that would have achieved the purpose of the project without seriously disrupting the ecological integrity of the area.
The Forest Service project called for commercial logging on 5,461 acres, clearcutting across wide swaths of forest, prescribed burning activities on 4,854 acres, and non-commercial logging of smaller trees on 5,040 acres.
It made absolutely no sense to go forward with this enormously expensive andenvironmentally destructive project. As the Forest Service’s own data indicates, federal taxpayers would have lost a stunning $4.2 million on the project. Significantly, this information was buried in internal agency documents, and the agency did not honestly disclose this number to the public in the Environmental Impact Statement.
We are also happy to report that more than a square mile of old-growth forest has been saved. The Forest Service claimed it was going to conduct the logging under the provisions of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, but there’s a real legal problem with that since that law actually prohibits logging old-growth forests — and this project was going to chop down 750 acres of increasingly rare old growth forests.
Yellowstone Grizzlies: Court denies State, Federal Bid to Strip Yellowstone Grizzlies of Endangered Species Act Protections
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in July in our favor on our challenge to the 2018 federal de-listing of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population under the Endangered Species Act. This ruling upholds a District Court order that blocked the de-listing of the great bears and kept them listed as a ‘threatened species’ under the Endangered Species Act. This victory keeps grizzly bears under federal management, and blocks sport hunting of the bears in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Montana: Alliance stops 10,000 acre logging/burning Project on Rocky Mountain Front
In June the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest pulled its decision to non-commercially log and/or burn 10,331 acres in the Elk and Smith Creek drainages on the Rocky Mountain Front after the Alliance sued to stop the project. The area, which is in an Inventoried Roadless Area about 20 miles west of Augusta, Montana, is naturally regenerating from the 1988 Canyon Creek fire.
The Alliance filed a lawsuit to stop this project in April and we are thrilled that the Forest Service has backed off the senseless idea to log and burn these young trees in the majestic area of the Rocky Mountain Front next to the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. Grizzly bears, lynx, and wolverines inhabit the area and all are listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act and all of the species’ habitat would have been harmed by the logging and burning.
Montana: Federal Court rules for Conservation Groups on Lawsuit to over Huge Logging and Road Building Project on the Border of Yellowstone National Park
In March the Federal District Court in Montana ruled in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council on their lawsuit against the Forest Service to stop the North Hebgen Logging Project in the Gallatin National Forest near Yellowstone National Park. The Court ruled that the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest Management Act when it authorized a large logging project next to Hebgen Lake on the west side of Yellowstone National Park.
Montana: Kootenai National Forest withdraws draft decision for huge logging project
The Alliance objected to the Forest Service’s planned Black Ram Logging project over ineffective road closures in Kootenai Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones. The Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment for the Black Ram project northwest of Yaak, Montana, called for over 10 square miles of logging, with 4,431 acres of clearcuts in grizzly bear and lynx habitat in the Kootenai National Forest.
Roads are the major source of grizzly bear mortality. 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 grizzlies are illegally killed within 500 meters of a road.
The Forest Service contended that if it puts a berm on an existing road it’s considered effectively closed to motorized traffic. We hired researchers and showed the court that people were driving not only on the supposedly closed roads but also on illegal roads in grizzly bear habitat.
In October the Court ordered the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on their ineffective road closures in Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear habitat where the proposed Black Ram project is located after determining that the Forest Service road closures were ineffective to protect the declining population of grizzly bears in the Cabinet Yaak ecosystem. It’s a huge victory since until the agency remedies the problem of ineffective road closures, no new road building can occur.
Montana: Alliance sues Trump’s Bureau of Reclamation for Bull Trout fatalities in Saint Mary-Milk River Irrigation Project – forces installation of fish screens
Bull trout have been listed as ‘Threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act for 20 years, but they are being killed by the hundreds every year due to poor dam design and operation, unscreened diversions into irrigation ditches, and river dewatering. To stop the needless slaughter of bull trout, the Alliance sent the Bureau of Reclamation a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue in September, basically telling the federal government ‘if you follow the law and take action on this issue in the next 60 days, we won’t have to go to court.’ Unfortunately the agency did not take the legally-required actions to protect bull trout and so we were forced to file suit to stop the totally unnecessary carnage. After we sued, the Bureau of Reclamation realized that they would lose in court and put in the fish screens as we requested.
Background: Bull trout and other native fish in the St. Mary drainage on the east side of Glacier National Park have been impacted and killed by the irrigation project in a number of ways: The design and management of the Saint Mary Diversion Dam results in entrainment of up to 600 juvenile bull trout each year while impairing the upstream passage of pre-spawning adult bull trout. During the non-irrigation period (typically October-March),
Swiftcurrent Creek is completely dewatered from the dam to the Boulder Creek confluence while releases of water from the Sherburne Dam are shut off to refill the reservoir resulting in such low flows that downstream water is far too warm for bull trout survival.
The effect on native fish is so great that the irrigation project has been identified as the primary threat to bull trout in the Saint Mary Recovery Unit. Simply put, this irrigation project takes cold, clean and abundant water coming out of Glacier National Park and diverts it into shallow, sun-warmed irrigation ditches. But bull trout require cold, clean, and connected water, which is not found in irrigation ditches from which there is no escape. If we’re ever going to recover bull trout and remove them from the Endangered Species List, we have to take the necessary steps to stop preventable fatalities such as being stranded and killed in irrigation ditches.
Please visit our Take Action page where we make it easy for you to ask your Senators and Representatives to cosponsor the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and please consider making a donation to support our efforts to protect habitat for native species in the Northern Rockies.
Mike Garrity – Executive Director