AWR Blog

Dr. Sara Jane Johnson, Native Ecosystems Council, (406) 285-3611
Michael Garrity, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
Jeff Juel, The Ecology Center, (406) 728-2320

Conservation Groups File suit challenging illegal Forest Plan for Targhee National Forest

MISSOULA—Today, three conservation organizations filed a comprehensive lawsuit in Federal District Court in Missoula against the U.S. Forest Service management plan for the Targhee National Forest in southeastern Idaho. The Targhee National Forest is next to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The Forest is home to a diverse number of wildlife and fish, including threatened and endangered species. The lawsuit challenges the new forest plan’s lack of protection for old growth forest and old growth forest dependent species such as grizzly bears, great gray owls, and goshawks.

The Targhee National Forest (“TNF”) adopted its first forest plan in 1985, and was the first National Forest in the country to adopt a Revised Forest Plan (“RFP”) in 1997.

“The Targhee National Forest eliminated the few rules they had to protect fish and wildlife in its new forest plan,” said Sara Jane Johnson Ph.D. Dr. Johnson worked for the U.S. Forest Service, including the Targhee National Forest, for 14 years as a wildlife biologist. Dr. Johnson said, “The Forest Service would like to turn back the clock to the days when logging was king, and species concerns were only entitled to feel-good lip service.”

Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said, “Government research has found that grizzly bears are more than 5 times more likely to die in roaded areas than in unroaded areas. This plan is not good for grizzly bears because grizzly bears can’t hide in clearcuts. The Targhee National Forest goal is to manage for money losing clearcuts rather than wildlife.”

As part of the growth process, the park is now considering recruiting a local firm to help them with the art of tree lopping, to keep the trees and forestry in tip-top condition.

“This Revised Forest Plan exemplifies the Bush administration’s approach to managing national forests,” stated Jeff Juel of the Ecology Center. “After repeatedly losing in court trying to ignore the original Forest Plan’s old-growth protection requirements, the Targhee’s Revised Forest Plan was written without any obligation to protect old growth, and with no recognition of the habitat and social values of these ancient forests.”

Dr. Johnson believes that, “clearcutting in the Targhee National Forest has reduced old growth dependent species including the grizzly bear, gray wolf, wolverine, fisher, pine marten, lynx, and goshawk to isolated and fragmented populations.”

Dr. Johnson said, “The issue of providing for the larger landscape needs of far-ranging forest carnivores reveals the need to utilize the principles of Conservation Biology on a landscape level. If we want the animals in Yellowstone Park to survive in the long run, linkages out of the Park with other core areas need to be established, providing sufficient habitat components so the linkages, or corridors, are functional for genetic interchange purposes.”

“The Forest Service could create far more jobs by complying with the law and restoring these forests, rather than continuing to build roads and log in grizzly bear habitat,” said Alliance for Wild Rockies executive director and economist Michael Garrity.

The groups are being represented by Forest Defense of Missoula. According to attorney Tom Woodbury, “This revised plan is shocking for its complete lack of scientific credibility. Even the Targhee’s own wildlife expert warned them against adopting it, and once adopted, warned them against implementing it.” Woodbury expects a hearing this summer on injunctive relief to protect species while the courts determine the plan’s legality.

Websites with pictures of clearcuts on the Targhee N.F.


Related Articles

Targhee National Forest’s revised forest plan is the target of a comprehensive lawsuit

Groups file lawsuit against U.S. Forest Service
by Dan Boyd
6/8/04 Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO – Targhee National Forest’s revised forest plan is the target of a comprehensive lawsuit, filed Monday by three conservation organizations in Federal District Court in Missoula, Mont. Native Ecosystems Council, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and The Ecology Center, all Montana-based regional conservation groups, joined together to file the lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service.

The suit alleges the revised forest plan, released in 1997, fails to adequately protect grizzly bears, great gray owls and the forests in which they reside.Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the Forest Service’s decision to place a higher emphasis on logging and timber sales than restoration in the Targhee National Forest is unwise both biologically and economically.”Grizzly bears can’t hide very well in clearcuts.” Garrity said. He added that restoring clearcut sections to the forest would result not only in better animal habitat, but more jobs and more long-term profitability as well.”Why lose money instead of protecting endangered species?” Garrity said.

The Targhee National Forest, north of Ashton, is seen by scientists as a key piece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It borders Yellowstone National Park, lies in close proximity to Grand Teton National Park and is seen as having the potential to serve as a wildlife corridor into the mountains of central Idaho.Officials at the U.S. Forest Service office in Idaho Falls were unaware of the lawsuit Monday afternoon. They declined comment.

Although the revised forest plan was released seven years ago, conservation groups had to run through an extended appeal process before filing a suit.Tom Woodbury, a lawyer with Forest Defense who will represent the three conservation groups, said the Forest Service hasn’t upheld the standards required by national wildlife laws. “(The revised forest plan) has none of the standards that would have any value at protecting wildlife,” Woodbury said.Woodbury said he views the suit as a test case – a new type of clash between conservation groups and the Bush administration. “I really believe they’re using this to see how much they can get away with,” he said. Woodbury expects a hearing to be held in July or August regarding a possible injunction to stop timber sales while the case proceeds. The entire case will likely last for more than a year.

Enviros challenge wildlife protection in Targhee plan
Natalie M. Henry, Greenwire reporter

PORTLAND, Ore. — A lawsuit filed this week by environmentalists over wildlife provisions in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest management plan represents the first challenge to a revised forest plan in nearly 30 years, since the 1976 passage of the National Forest Management Act.

Environmentalists said the management plan, drafted by the Forest Service in 1997 before Targhee merged with the Caribou National Forest, allows too much logging in old-growth areas and fails to protect habitat for several high-profile species, including grizzly bears which could use the forest as a wildlife corridor between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and bear reserves in Canada.

The Forest Service began revising many of its forest management plans in the 1990s as an entire generation of plans, some dating back 15 years, began expiring. The Caribou-Targhee plan was the first to become ripe for judicial review, according to Tom Woodbury, an attorney for Forest Defense. As such, it has become an important test case for how the service will balance commercial and economic interests in the national forests’ for years to come.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council and the Ecology Center — initially appealed the Targhee forest plan directly to the Forest Service, but the agency failed to respond to questions posed, and last summer Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth denied the administrative appeal outright.

The lawsuit maintains that the Targhee plan violates the National Forest Management Act because it fails to ensure viable populations of fish, mammals and plants throughout the forest’s range. “By having no enforceable standard to protect fish and wildlife, they’re not following [the law],” said Michael Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Woodbury noted that management guidelines adopted under the plan in 1997 “say weird things, like the forest has a vision of some day obtaining [viable populations of wildlife], but not necessarily during this forest plan.

“They’re just completely unenforceable,” he said of the guidelines.

The Forest Service maintains that the Caribou-Targhee plan complies with the act. “We are within the legal bounds of NFMA and that has been affirmed by the administrative process,” said agency spokesman Lynn Ballard in Idaho.

Ballard said the agency has made no secret about its efforts to increase logging under the plan in recent years. “It is kind of on the upswing, we definitely have come up, but we identified that in the forest plan,” he said. Even with the recent gains, Ballard said logging in the forest remains well below what was harvested during the 1980s and has dropped 20 fold since the 1970s.

But while logging is up under the plan, so are protections for bears and other wildlife, Ballard said. For example, the service has eliminated 400 miles of roads in the forest’s “bear management units” to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Outside the bear units, the service has removed 250 miles of roads, with an additional 150 miles planned for elimination.

The Fish and Wildlife Service had identified road density as a key threat to bear habitat as well as for elk. Moreover, the roads were expensive to maintain, Ballard said.

Garrity agreed reducing road density has been an important step toward saving bears and other species, but he maintains it is not enough. Grizzly bears, among the largest and most mobile of all wild mammals in the United States, need still more habitat in the Targhee and its neighboring forests, he said.

Currently, grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, of which the Targhee is a part, are isolated from other grizzlies in the northern Rocky Mountains and Canada. Biologists say if grizzlies are to survive in the lower 48, they must mingle and breed with larger populations in Canada. That means providing habitat corridors between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Canada.

Recently proposed timber sales in the Targhee will diminish that habitat, according to Sara Jane Johnson of Native Ecosystems Council, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Johnson was a Forest Service wildlife biologist for 14 years and spent some of that time working in the Targhee forest.

“If we want the animals in Yellowstone Park to survive in the long run, linkages out of the park with other core areas need to be established,” Johnson said. Without such corridors, Johnson said isolated bear populations are likely to inbreed, which would result in an overall weakening of their genetics.

The former Targhee forest plan, adopted in 1985, had some enforceable rules to protect fish and wildlife, according to Johnson, but the 1997 plan was markedly weaker on wildlife issues.

For example, the plan eliminated a goal of maintaining 3 percent of the forest as old growth for species dependent on it, like grizzlies and northern goshawks, a prized predatory bird native to the region’s forests. Biologists indicate that goshawks need habitat with up to 20 percent old growth to survive, and many other species need at least 10 percent old-growth habitat, according to Woodbury.

Garrity also questioned the economic viability of the forest plan. “They lose money on almost all their timber sales there, so it doesn’t make any sense … destroying habitat for endangered species,” he said. Forest restoration, on the other hand, would create more jobs because it is more labor intensive, he said.

Woodbury said the lawsuit is foremost about government accountability. “The bottomline is just public accountability and stewardship,” he said. “These are the stewards of our public lands. It’s not just a matter of adopting lofty goals and saying that you’re going to pursue them, it’s too late for that. … They’re no longer managing the forest for wildlife.”



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