Conservation groups sue U.S. Forest Service over logging project in northern Montana

The group’s allege the project would be detrimental to the grizzly population in the area

By: - July 1, 2022 11:35 am

Photo of a grizzly bear (Photo by Gregory Smith | Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA 2.0)

A pair of conservation groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service over its approval of a logging project that they say would be detrimental to the grizzly bear population on the Montana-Canada border.

The Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians filed the lawsuit Thursday in Missoula federal court. The logging project, or the Black Ram Project, would clearcut thousands of acres and log mature and old-growth forests in the Kootenai National Forest in northern Montana and threaten a jeopardized population of grizzly bears as well as release significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the groups said in a Thursday press release about the lawsuit.

“The Forest Service failed to take the required ‘hard look’ to consider and disclose the Black Ram Project’s direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, including impacts to the imperiled grizzly bear and impacts to–and from–climate change,” the lawsuit reads. The groups say this failure violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

The U.S. Forest Service does not comment on pending litigation and decline response when contacted by the Daily Montanan Thursday.

About 25 grizzly bears live in the forest along with other species, including lynx, wolverine, and native trout, according to the suit.

“Allowing huge, old trees and crucial grizzly habitat to be destroyed is reckless and incredibly short-sighted,” Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in the release. “This massive logging project defies President Biden’s executive order aimed at protecting old trees. We need these magnificent carbon-storing forests to help fight climate change, and we’ll do everything possible to save them.”

Along with violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the groups also allege the agency violated the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

With the lawsuit, the groups filed a notice of intent on Thursday to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alleging its approval of the project violates the Endangered Species Act. The agency has 60 days to respond to the notice.

According to the release, the project will allow nearly 4,000 acres of the Kootenai National Forest to be commercially logged, including clearcutting more than 1,700 acres and logging hundreds of acres of centuries-old trees.

The U.S. Forest Service approved the project on June 21, and the groups say the project’s approval undermines the Biden administration’s goal of protecting 30% of public lands and waters by 2030.

“In the midst of dual climate and biodiversity crises, the decision to move forward with this Trump-era project to clearcut mature forest stands and build roads into this wild gem tucked away in the northwestern corner of Montana is not merely farcical but actually tragic,” Sarah McMillan, senior adviser at WildEarth Guardians said in the release. “What the Forest Service seeks to do here, in essential habitat for imperiled species such as Canada lynx, wolverine, wolves, and an at-risk population of about 25 bears, is akin to crushing sapphires to make concrete.”

The plaintiffs are asking for the court to rule the acceptance of the project unlawful and issue a preliminary injunction to keep it from moving forward while litigation unfolds. And to order the Forest Service to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .