Alliance for the Wild Rockies sues Forest Service for logging plan because of grizzly concerns

By: - October 14, 2021 5:33 pm

Grizzly bear (Courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service).

Earlier this month, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit against the United States Forest Service’s Kootenai National Forest over a logging project that wildlife advocates say would likely spell the end for an already imperiled grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak mountain range.

The Alliance filed the suit in federal district court in Missoula and asked to halt the Ripley Project, which it describes as a “massive clearcutting and logging project” near Libby.

The Ripley project would allow 17 square miles (more than 10,000 acres) of logging including five square miles of clearcutting.

The USFS told the Daily Montanan on Thursday that its policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit also challenges the Forest Service’s plan to rebuild and maintain 93 miles of logging roads, 13 miles of new permanent roads, six miles of temporary logging roads and convert 11 miles of illegal roads into legal roads, including a two-acre parking area and a four-mile motorized trail.

Mike Garrity, the executive director of the Alliance, pointed out that taxpayers would be on the hook for $643,000 to subsidize the project.

The plaintiffs’ main opposition to the Ripley plan is the concern about grizzly bears, pointing out that two males pass through the area and one has a home-range there. In addition, three radio-collared grizzlies have been recorded there in the past 5 to 7 years.

“The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is in bad shape,” Garrity said. “The most recent minimum population estimate for this population is 47 bears, and the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan requires 100 bears for the minimum viable population.”

The lawsuit contends without more aggressive, supportive management measures for this small grizzly population, it may collapse because of the narrow zones of non-impacted wilderness and inbreeding of the bears due to the small population and geographic barriers. The suit said that more logging roads will only exacerbate the bears’ isolation and may hasten the failure of this small group of grizzlies.

Garrity cited studies that show the Cabinet-Yaak recovery zone is already too small and narrow for grizzly bear home ranges, and that of all the external factors, road densities may be the most problematic for bear recovery.

“By valuing the private profits of the timber industry over the preservation of endangered species, the Forest Service is failing to live up to its legal and ethical obligations to our public lands and public wildlife,” Garrity said.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.