Another grizzly lawsuit filed on USFS roads

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Another group of conservation groups has filed suit in federal district court in Missoula against the Forest Service¹s road management plan for the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk grizzly bear recovery zones.

The lawsuit challenges the USFS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approval of road standards in habitat for the struggling grizzly bear populations in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk regions of northwest Montana and northern Idaho. The lawsuit argues that the USFS road plan fails to protect grizzly bears.

The suit accuses the Forest Service of being in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the USF&WS of being in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice representing the Cabinet Resource Group, the Great Bear Foundation, the Idaho Conservation League, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Selkirk Conservation Alliance.

³The grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak and the Selkirks are at a crossroads,² said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso. ³If we act now to protect and restore their habitat, they stand a fighting chance at survival.²

It is the second lawsuit to be filed in as many months seeking to protect grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems. Last month, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Lands Council filed a lawsuit in federal district court charging the Forest Service with taking inappropriate steps to protect grizzly bears in the ecosystem.

Both lawsuits target the Forest Service¹s Forest Plan Amendments for Motorized Access Management with the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zones. A USFS Record of Decision on the amendments was released in March 2004.

The Earthjustice lawsuit points out that there are about 30-40 grizzly bears living in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and ³all recent population analyses indicate that the CYE grizzly bear population is in decline.²

The Selkirk ecosystem includes northern Idaho, eastern Washington and southern British Columbia and the federal land is managed by the Idaho and Colville national forests. According to the lawsuit, there are an estimated 46 grizzlies living in the ecosystem.

The suit claims that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relied on ³inadequate scientific information and failed adequately to consider available information² concerning the grizzly bears in the two ecosystems. That¹s being called a violation of the Endangered Species Act, by the suit.

The Forest Service is accused of failing to explore alternatives to the road plan it adopted in March and did not address incomplete information from a grizzly bear study in the two ecosystems. The suit calls the Forest Services road amendment decision ³arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise contrary to NEPA.²

According to the lawsuit, there were 26,000 miles of roads in the Kootenai, Idaho, Panhandle, Lolo and Colville national forests as of 1999. As a result, grizzly bear habitats include a high density of roads and less core habitat area than in other recovery zones, which include national parks and wilderness areas.

The Earthjustice lawsuit questions the USF&W not addressing in its February 2004 biological opinion that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is in decline but the proposed forest plan road amendment makes only minor improvements in the overall habitat while allowing for ³deterioration of some of the most secure habitats remaining for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population.²

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