MISSOULA, Mont.— Conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service today to stop a large timber sale in the Kootenai National Forest that threatens a small and imperiled population of grizzly bears near the Montana-Canada border. The groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue it, as well.
The Knotty Pine Project authorizes the logging of more than 5,000 acres with massive clearcuts — at least one the size of 170 football fields — and allows for more than 45 miles of roads to be constructed or rebuilt in crucial grizzly bear habitat. In approving the timber sale, the Forest Service failed to disclose the damaging impacts of logging and new roads on the struggling and isolated grizzly bear population.
“Roads and clearcutting are some of the biggest threats to this extremely fragile population of grizzly bears,” said Kristine Akland, Northern Rockies attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Not only did the agencies completely ignore the very real effects of illegal and unauthorized roads on grizzly bears, but they also failed to consider how opening more than 45 miles of roads in grizzly bear habitat will further harm this threatened population.”
“The Knotty Pine proposal is yet one more in a linked series of giant logging projects that would replace cool, wet forests with hot, dry clearcuts. We want to keep our water in the Yaak,” said Rick Bass, interim director of the Yaak Valley Forest Council.
A 2021 Fish and Wildlife Service report concluded that the Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzlies, which probably numbers fewer than 50 bears, is the most vulnerable of the four grizzly populations in the lower 48 due to its very low population numbers, low genetic diversity and low reproduction rates.
“We will not stand idly by and watch the federal government drive this imperiled grizzly population into extinction by bulldozing more logging roads and clearcutting more grizzly bear habitat for the sake of shortsighted, private, for-profit logging operations,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
“The Forest Service is simply wrong that logging, including huge clearcuts, will restore wildlife habitat or keep people safe from wildfire, as the agency implies,” said Adam Rissien with WildEarth Guardians. “Managers cannot replace mother nature with a chainsaw, and the best way to protect communities from fire is to focus work around homes, not log big trees miles away.”
Grizzly bears need large areas of road-free forest to survive and raise cubs. The complaint and notice of intent that were filed today point out that the Knotty Pine Project fails to meet the Forest Service’s own requirements limiting motor-vehicle access designed to protect grizzly bears, significantly reducing the amount of secure habitat available to the beleaguered animals.
“The most recent minimum population estimate for this population is 45 bears, but the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan requires a minimum of 100 bears for a viable population. And the Forest Service wants to build even more logging roads in the imperiled Cabinet-Yaak grizzly habitat even though they know that most bears are killed within 500 meters of roads. This is insane,” said Sara Johnson, director of Native Ecosystems Council.
The Knotty Pine Project is one of several large logging projects proposed or authorized in the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone.