Liz Sedler, AWR, (208) 263-5281
Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a temporary injunction today to halt all logging and road-building activities approved as part of the Northeast Yaak Project in the Kootenai National Forest of northwest Montana. The Kootenai National Forest comprises 70% of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, the home of one of the most endangered grizzly bear populations in the world. The primary threat to the grizzly is human access to its habitat, which leads to direct mortality through illegal shootings and indirect mortality through habituation. The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have admitted that their habitat management standards for the grizzly are failing to protect the bear from its slide into extinction, and that the Northeast Yaak Project will likely further disturb and displace the bears in the imperiled Cabinet-Yaak population.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed the lawsuit in United States District Court for the District of Montana on December 5, 2007 challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to go forward with the Northeast Yaak Project despite its detrimental impact on the endangered grizzly bear. The Project authorized logging of approximately 16.7 million board feet of timber from 1,777 acres, as well as the construction of new roads and the opening of closed roads, all in the Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. The lawsuit also challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s assent for the Project. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled partially in favor of the Alliance and partially in favor of the government agencies and both sides appealed.
The Northeast Yaak Project is one of the first logging & road-building projects approved in the region since the U.S. Forest Service’s 2004 plan for managing road access in Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear country was deemed illegal and set aside. “The U.S. Forest Service is now implementing a revision of its old, failed standards for logging and road access in grizzly habitat. The agencies are ignoring the available scientific evidence that these standards are correlated with declining population and increasing mortality rates,” said Alliance’s Liz Sedler. “This is a clear violation of the law, which requires that management of endangered species habitat be based on the best available science,” she continued. Sedler said, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service records reveal that the tiny Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population has been in decline for a while and that the decline is accelerating. In just six years at least half the estimated population in the Cabinet Yaak has been killed.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports indicate the grizzly bear population is small, estimated at only 30-40 bears. 24 bears are known to have died during the six year period from 1999-2005, including at least seven females and a number of cubs, whereas 16 known mortalities occurred in the Cabinet-Yaak during the seventeen year period from 1983-1998. At least three additional female bears have been killed since 2007.
Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance and a former natural resource economics instructor at the University of Utah said, “It’s time the federal government did the right thing for these bears — before they disappear entirely from the Yaak Valley and the Cabinet Mountains. They need more security and less disturbance from taxpayer subsidized, money — losing timber sales. This is a true “make work” project for bureaucrats. First they offer a timber sale that will cost taxpayers $1.2 million, and then they will ask for more money to help recover the Cabinet Yaak grizzly bears that they just put at a greater risk of extinction.”