by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian
Logging plans in the Kootenai National Forest have been challenged by an environmental group that argues new road-building will ruin chances for grizzly bear survival.
“The grizzly numbers there continue to decline every year,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity said on Wednesday. “Most bears are killed near roads, and when they have timber sales they build more roads.”
The group sued the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal District Court in Missoula earlier this week. In its complaint, AWR alleges that logging plans for about 4,000 acres of timber in the Yaak-Cabinet Ecosystem around Libby, Noxon and the Three Rivers Ranger District ignore the bear’s federal Endangered Species Act protection.
Kootenai National Forest officials denied the group’s administrative appeals in July and September. The text of those denials was not posted on the Forest Service’s Web site and a Forest Service official was not able to provide additional information Wednesday.
Fish and Wildlife Service reviewers also supported the three sales, known as the Grizzly Vegetation and Transportation Management Project, the Miller West Fisher Project, and the Little Beaver Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project. The projects would build 14 miles of new roads, reopen 8.5 miles of closed roads and reconstruct 2.4 miles of existing road.
District Court Judge Don Molloy blocked a similar timber sale near Troy in 2008 after agreeing with Alliance of the Wild Rockies that the bears’ security was improperly considered. Molloy is also receiving this new lawsuit.
The Grizzly Vegetation project is also in territory where Sen. Jon Tester’s proposed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act would require 3,000 acres of additional logging a year for the next decade. Garrity said passage of that bill would further diminish the remaining safe habitat for Yaak grizzly bears.
The area supported about 40 grizzlies in around 2008, but there have been 24 documented bear kills there between 1999 and 2005, Garrity said. Part of the lawsuit alleges the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to account for discrepancies in their own bear research dating back to the mid-1990s.
“That entire habitat is threatened,” Garrity said. “We’ve been fighting this for a long time.”
Logging work is expected to resume in June 2010.