Why the Writer Rick Bass is Dead Wrong About the Threats to the Grizzlies of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem

Rick Bass’ recent article claimed a proposed hiking trail is the biggest threat to the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population in the Kootenai National Forest (“Path of least resistance,” Oct. 19).

He’s dead wrong on that assertion, as one need only consider how many grizzly bears there are in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, which has some of the most heavily used trails in Montana.

The new trail that Bass wants Missoulians to help fight is in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. Bass stated that one of his primary concerns is that if the trail is built, the Forest Service might have to close some logging roads to create secure habitat for grizzlies in other areas. It’s a mystery why Bass would be against closing some logging roads, since there are plenty of roads in the Yaak, and even Bass admits that “vast parts of it have been clearcut to hell and back.”

It is, however, true that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population needs all of the support it can get. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s population estimates in its annual Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear monitoring reports dropped from 47 bears in 2007 to 41 bears in 2014. In other words, the eight years of published monitoring reports document a 13 percent population decline. Mortality rates are extremely high, and the population is failing every target for recovery. In fact, a federal court recently ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service must consider whether the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear should be uplisted to “endangered” rather than “threatened” status.

The Cabinet-Yaak is beautiful country with lush, thick forests that provide great hiding cover for grizzly bears. But the Kootenai National Forest also has a lot of big trees that the timber industry and Forest Service want to clearcut. Clearcutting not only removes hiding cover for grizzlies, but logging roads are built to get the timber out. Grizzlies are most often killed near roads. As the statistics show, the reason the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population continues to fall is not because of hikers, but because of way too many logging roads and clearcuts.

What Bass didn’t mention was that he is on the board of directors of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, which routinely supports more logging roads and clearcuts in the Cabinet-Yaak. In one recent case, the Yaak Valley Forest Council joined with F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company and the Idaho Forest Group to file declarations in federal court supporting an enormous logging and road-building project in the Kootenai Forest called the East Reservoir project. They are represented by an attorney who works for the American Forest Resource Council, which is a timber industry group.

That logging project, which Bass and the Yaak Valley Forest Council support, occurs in an area that is occupied by Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears. The logging project authorizes commercial logging on 8,845 acres, including clearcutting on 3,458 acres, while rebuilding 175 miles of logging roads and bulldozing in an additional nine miles of permanent new logging roads. The project will also add an additional 13 miles of unauthorized user-created roads to the legal road system and re-open nine miles of previously closed motorized trails.

Supporting this massive logging and roads project is completely inconsistent with supporting Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears.

If Rick Bass and the Yaak Valley Forest Council really cared about the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears, they wouldn’t be fighting a hiking trail. Instead, they would join us—instead of undermining us—in fighting the biggest threat to the grizzlies’ existence, which is the Forest Service’s plan to spend millions subsidizing the timber industry to clearcut the remaining forests and bulldoze more logging roads in habitat that’s critical for grizzly recovery.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.