AWR Blog

Court Halts Proposed Aerial Herbicide Spraying of 35,000 acres of the Kootenai National Forest in Northwest Montana

contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

Missoula, MT — Ruling on to a lawsuit by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a federal judge has halted proposed herbicide spraying from low-flying helicopters over 35,000 acres of the Kootenai National Forest. The area is habitat for the second most endangered grizzly bear population in the world and is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act .

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch issued recommendations in December 2009 to halt the proposed aerial spraying because of potential harm to the grizzly bears. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy recently issued his Order adopting those recommendations. The Court based its finding on evidence that the agency had failed to properly determine whether multiple overflights by herbicide-spraying helicopters would harass and displace this fragile population of grizzly bears from their habitat.

Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, says grizzly bears used to number around 100,000 and inhabit the entire western U.S. from Canada to Mexico. “But now they’re relegated to about 1,000 individuals in five small remnant populations in backcountry areas like National Parks and official Wilderness areas.”

One of these remnant and isolated grizzly bear populations is found in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem of northwestern Montana and northern Idaho. “The Cabinet-Yaak population is small, around 40 bears,” said Garrity. “And the minimum population required for species viability is 100 bears.” The Cabinet-Yaak population has experienced an increasing mortality rate over the last two decades and is failing to meet recovery targets. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believe the likelihood that this population will go extinct is around 90 percent.

“The injunction against helicopter spraying is a great victory for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies,” said Garrity. “The Forest Service plan to spray tens of thousands of acres of bear habitat over 15 years might have been the last straw. This fragile population is barely hanging on and it cannot withstand invasive activities, like helicopter spraying, that would continually harass and displace bears for the next decade.”

The Kootenai National Forest also encompasses several small towns, including Libby, Montana, a town already designated by the EPA as having a public health emergency due to asbestos poisoning. “Most of the locals who participated in the public comment process for the proposal were opposed to the aerial herbicide spraying,” Garrity noted. “Their concerns were that the poison could land on people, cause impacts to water quality, and might bio-accumulate in commonly consumed local foods like fish, deer, and huckleberries.”

Garrity says those concerns are based on harm caused by previous aerial spray operations on federal public lands, such as the 1970’s aerial herbicide spraying over Bureau of Land Management lands in Oregon that resulted in “numerous and serious health problems . . . including spontaneous abortions, birth defects in humans and animals, and various other illnesses,” as documented by a federal appeals court in the case Save Our Ecosystems v. Clark, 747 F.2d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1984)”

The lawsuit was filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in federal court in December of 2008 challenging the Forest Service’s 2007 decision to go forward with the Kootenai National Forest Invasive Plant Project in the area surrounding Libby and several small towns in northwestern Montana.

Please find the Court decisions attached as well as court briefing papers.

Order, March 30, 2010

Findings and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge, December 23, 2009

Plaintiff’s Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, July 01, 2009

Plaintiff’s Brief in Response to Defendant’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment & in Reply to Defendant’s Response to Plantiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment, September 14, 2009

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