Not enough grizzly protection in timber project

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A federal court judge ruled Thursday that an additional Environmental Impact Statement is needed for the Pilgrim Creek Timber Sale Project in the Kootenai National Forest.

The decision was made after research showed faulty road berms weren’t blocking motorized vehicles from entering grizzly bear habitat in the Cabinet-Yaak.

A request for summary judgement from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies was granted by U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy. The Alliance filed the lawsuit against the Kootenai National Forest Service in April of 2018.

According to the court order, “while the agency [Forest Service] considered bear disturbance and displacement, the actual effects analyzed were limited by its assumption that public use would be effectively restricted.

“As argued by Alliance, that assumption has shown false, making the ineffectiveness of the road closures a ‘significant new circumstance or information relevant to environmental concerns’ that was not previously considered.”

The Forest Service’s Environmental Impact Statement for logging, which contains seven pages of grizzly bear analysis, presumed no motorized vehicle access would occur behind berms in fragile grizzly bear habitat in the Cabinet-Yaak.

But researchers conducted a survey of berm-closure effectiveness in the Kootenai National Forest in 2017 and discovered there were numerous berms that failed to effectively prevent motorized access.

“Photographs showed people were driving over and around the berms,” Mike Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said.

“Regardless, the Forest Service prepared a Supplemental Information Report in February of 2019 maintaining that additional National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Report was not necessary.

A NEPA is a procedural statute that requires agencies to carefully consider the impacts of, and the alternatives to, federal actions significantly affecting the environment. Its purpose, in a nutshell, is to ensure that agencies take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of their proposed actions before proceeding.

Garrity said grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak area are dwindling, with roads as a major source of grizzly bear mortality. A 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned that “roads probably pose the most imminent threat to grizzly bear habitat today.”

“That’s why the Forest Service has restrictions on the total number of roads in grizzly bear habitat since most grizzlies are illegally killed within 500 yards of a road,” Garrity explained. “Obviously the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service aren’t doing their job to recover the grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak since there are only about half the number of bears considered necessary to prevent inbreeding and the recovery of the isolated population.”

According to Willie Sykes with the Kootenai National Forest Service, as of Friday, Forest Service officials hadn’t had the chance to review the court order in its entirety and declined to comment on the ruling.

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