by Rob Chaney
A timber sale in the Kootenai National Forest faces a court challenge for allegedly failing to protect a small population of grizzly bears.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed the lawsuit in Missoula’s U.S. District Court office on Tuesday. The Helena-based group charges the Pilgrim timber sale would open 50 miles of roads in the Cabinet Ranger District, where fewer than 50 grizzlies live. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service population target is 100 bears.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has declared that ‘(i)f human-related disturbances such as road use or timber harvest continue in preferred habitats for extended periods of time, historical bear use of the area may be lost.’ ” AWR director Michael Garrity said in an email. “But instead of refraining from logging and road-building in occupied grizzly bear habitat until the bear shows signs of recovery – or at least stabilization – the Forest Service has just approved another road-building and commercial logging project in occupied bear habitat: the Pilgrim Creek Project. Obviously the Forest Service isn’t doing its job to recover the grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak, so unfortunately, we have no choice but to take them to court to force the agency to follow the law.”
The project would log or burn 1,434 acres in the Kootenai National Forest, including 898 acres of clearcuts. It also plans to use helicopters for prescribed burning of another 3,250 acres in the Huckleberry Mountain and Lone Cliff Smeads inventoried roadless areas, which Garrity said was also occupied bear habitat.
The sale would need 4.7 miles of new permanent road, 47 miles of road reconstruction and 1.1 miles of temporary road building.
U.S. Forest Service officials were on furlough because of a national budget dispute and not available for comment.
“The target population for recovery of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears is 100 bears,” Garrity said. “Not only are populations less than half that needed ensure a genetically stable population, they are in decline. The agency is blatantly ignoring its own scientific evidence and these projects would only have accelerated the loss of this population of grizzlies.”