Court Blocks Logging In Montana That Would Have Harmed Fragile Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Population

This week, A federal judge halted logging and road construction for the large Knotty Pine timber sale project in the Kootenai National Forest. The project threatens a small, imperiled population of grizzly bears near the Montana-Canadian border.

The order prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from any ground-disturbing activities, previously set to begin next month, until the court can issue a final ruling on the merits of the case.

“This is excellent news for grizzly bears and everyone who loves the Kootenai National Forest,” said Kristine Akland, Northern Rockies program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This spectacular forest is home to female grizzly bears who should never be displaced by logging, but especially not in the spring when they’re coming out of hibernation. We’re optimistic that we can stop this destructive project for good.”

In 2022, conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to challenge the agencies’ failure to analyze the damage that logging and road use would do to the struggling, isolated, Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population.

In his order, the judge said that the agencies failed to adequately account for the harm to grizzly bears from illegal roads when they authorized the Knotty Pine Project.

“The broader problem of illegal motorized access is a fluctuating, but permanent one,” he wrote. “The agencies’ reliance on the temporally and spatially disparate, (and thus purportedly unpredictable) effects of unauthorized motorized use fails to consider an important aspect of the problem.”

“Once again, the Forest Service was caught breaking the law, because of the ongoing chronic problem of ineffective closures and unauthorized motorized access,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “This is very important since most grizzlies are killed within one-third of a mile from a road and the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population decreased 30% in the last five years.”

“Today’s ruling is a win for the Yaak Valley’s imperiled grizzly bear population, which the court recognized would suffer irreparable harm should the project proceed,” said Adam Rissien, rewilding manager with WildEarth Guardians. “The court ruled that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population has such low resilience that it cannot suffer the loss of even one to two reproductive cycles.”

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 important grizzly bear habitat. It’s one of several large logging projects proposed or authorized in the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone.

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