Michael Garrity, (406) 459-5936, (406) 721-5420
Dan Rohlf, (503) 768-6707
MISSOULA—A Montana-based conservation organization has filed a notice to sue the U.S. Forest Service for violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). In a related action, the group has also filed suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for failing to protect grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in northwest Montana.
Alliance for the Wild Rockies claims in its notice letter and related suit that the proposed White Pine timber sale in the Kootenai National Forest will damage occupied grizzly bear habitat and a vital linkage corridor. The White Pine project would lose nearly $3 million dollars, build 63 miles of roads and remove trees from 3,790 acres. The timber project would increase road densities within the project area for seven years to more than 2.2 miles of road per square mile of land area—three times the density allowed by the Kootenai National Forest Plan.
The Alliance is represented in the matter by Dan Rohlf, an attorney with the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center in Portland, Oregon.
“No wonder the grizzly population in the Cabinet-Yaak region is barely clinging to survival,” said Alliance for the Wild Rockies executive director Michael Garrity. “Based on the Kootenai National Forest budget, it is clear this timber sale would lose $3 million dollars while damaging the grizzly bear population and a linkage corridor vital to the long term survival and recovery of the grizzly in the Northern Rockies. It makes no sense to lose $3 million dollars destroying grizzly bear habitat.”
The notice, required under the ESA, notes that the Forest Service acknowledges the area is occupied habitat for grizzly bears, yet the agency approved plans to triple the allowable road density. Roads have been shown by federal, state and independent grizzly bear scientists to be the leading cause in grizzly bear deaths. The sale would remove trees from 3,790 acres within a total project area of 26,440 acres, reducing hiding cover for grizzly bears and greatly reducing the effectiveness of the area which has been identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a linkage zone for grizzly bears.
“Both the Forest Service and FWS have ignored their legal duties to use the best science available in assessing this project,” said Dan Rohlf. “Moreover, the agencies own data shows that this huge timber project will result in death and injury to bears, which the Endangered Species Act expressly forbids.”
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), a committee of federal and state land managers including the U.S. Forest Service, recognize the detrimental effects of habitat fragmentation and now endorse a meta-population/linkage corridor strategy for grizzly bear recovery. In a letter signed by all the participants the IGBC stated: “Wildlife habitat conservation and the eventual recovery of listed species such as grizzly bears will require connections between populations.” (emphasis provided). Despite its own records showing that the area is occupied by grizzly bears, coupled with many studies concluding that high road density harms bears, the Forest Service found that the White Pine project is “not likely to adversely affect” the bears. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreed with this conclusion. The Allianceís suit and notice letter take issue with these conclusions. In 1999, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that reclassification of the grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak area from threatened to endangered was warranted, partially due to its extremely low population size of 30-40 bears or less, with as few as 10-15 on the U.S. side of the border. “It’s clear from the official record that the agencies entrusted with the survival and recovery of the grizzly bear will not follow their own rules and regulations, thereby putting a stranglehold on grizzly bear recovery,” said Garrity, a professional economist. “The Forest Service could create more jobs by complying with the law and restoring this area rather than breaking the law and building more roads in this critical grizzly bear habitat.”