MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) – A timber sale in the Kootenai National Forest on the Idaho border has been delayed as officials consider its impact on grizzly bears. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has withdrawn its approval for the White Pine timber sale, pressured by a lawsuit filed by Alliance for the Wild Rockies. The suit alleges there is new information about bears living in the area that would be logged.
The group said it will likely withdraw its lawsuit if authorities protect the grizzlies. “We’re committed to ensuring that threatened species like the grizzly bear get the legal protection they need and deserve,” said Michael Garrity, alliance executive director. “If that protection can be ensured without further court action, all the better for everyone.” The environmental group was especially concerned by what it contended were plans to build or rebuild 70 miles of roads in the forest, increasing the likelihood of encounters between bears and humans. Steve Johnsen, a wildlife biologist for the Cabinet Ranger District, said the White Pine project includes the logging of about 3,100 acres of live trees and would yield about 23 million board feet of timber. About 900 acres would be clear-cut. The remaining acreage would be commercially thinned. Johnsen also said the White Pine project only called for 6.6 miles of new roads, 19 miles of rebuilt roads, 39 miles of “spot reconstruction” and about five miles of temporary roads. He said gates would be placed on the new roads, so there would be no public use. Grizzlies have not been documented in the White Pine drainage since 1987, but three grizzlies were spotted in the mountains between Noxon and Heron last summer. Between 30 and 40 grizzlies are estimated to live in the Selkirk-Cabinet-Yaak area.
A second lawsuit, by the Ecology Center and Lands Council, seeks to stop all five timber sales planned in the Kootenai and challenges the cutting of so-called old growth timber. No action has been taken in that lawsuit.