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How the Alliance for the Wild Rockies Stopped Trump From Bulldozing Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk Grizzly Bears into Extinction

Montana grizzly. Photo: National Park Service.

Under President Trump’s watch, the last remaining mountain caribou in the Lower 48 states went extinct just a few months ago. Like the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear in Northwest Montana and the Selkirk grizzlies in Northern Idaho, the mountain caribou lived primarily on National Forest lands in the Northern Rockies, had a population of fewer than 50 individuals, and was driven to extinction by logging and roads.

Adding insult to terrible environmental injury, it’s the American taxpayers who subsidize clearcutting and bulldozing in logging roads by timber corporations at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.  Yet, in a true David versus Goliath battle, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies recently won a precedent-setting legal victory against the Trump administration, providing new hope for the recovery of the Cabinet-Yaak’s imperiled grizzly bears.

Why we sued and what we based it on

Currently, the Forest Service’s own Forest Plan limits the number of roads allowed in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk grizzly bear habitat since roads are the major source of grizzly bear mortality. In its 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned that ‘roads probably pose the most imminent threat to grizzly habitat today.’

By law, the logging roads and illegal user-created roads on National Forests are supposed to be securely and effectively closed.  Unfortunately, the Forest Service has interpreted this requirement to allow it to put a pile of dirt in front of the road and call it good.  We showed the court that this strategy is failing.  Road use on closed roads and illegal user-created roads is a pervasive and chronic problem and it is keeping these endangered grizzly bears on the brink of extinction.

Given their horrific environmental record, it’s no real surprise that Trump’s Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service aren’t doing their job to recover the grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems.  The proof, as they say, “is in the pudding” and the proof of Trump’s failure to follow the law is evident since there are only about half the bears necessary for recovery.

What the Court concluded and what it means for Northern Rockies logging and road-building 

The Court agreed with us that road use on closed roads and illegal user-created roads is a pervasive and chronic problem, and it ordered the Forest Service to re-consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address this glaring non-compliance with its own science and grizzly bear habitat management strategy.

Bottom line is that until the government commits to effectively closing or removing these logging roads, logging and road-building projects in Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk grizzly bear habitat must stop. There are dozens of logging projects already approved and we are now in the process of isolating these projects – one by one – and bringing legal challenges to stop them until the management regime is fixed.  Next up – the Hanna Flats Project on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

The bigger picture and why we need the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act 

While our court victory is tremendous, we need to do more than just stop road building and clearcutting in grizzly bear habitat. For grizzly bears to survive over the long run, we need to protect and connect their habitat so grizzlies in the Northern Rockies can again be one genetically-sound population.

Because the Northern Rockies still have large amounts of roadless areas that can provide secure travel corridors, keeping those areas roadless will allow grizzlies to travel between the Northern Continental Divide region and Yellowstone.  Grizzly bears are reclaiming their old habitat now and will eventually connect — but only if we continue to protect their habitat instead of bulldozing and clearcutting it.

Grizzlies have the highest mortality rates near roads and the greatest chance of survival in protected wilderness areas.  The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) is now before Congress as H.R. 1321 in the House and S. 827 in the Senate. The measure, written by citizens and scientists in the Northern Rockies, provides wilderness designation for 24 million acres of roadless forests where they can not only continue to be highly effective carbon sinks but also provide the best chance for grizzly bears and our planet’s recovery.

The Trump administration, along with Republicans and corporate Democrats in Congress, are pushing for more and more clearcutting of our remaining ancient forests and bulldozing more logging roads in the Northern Rockies.

How you can help save the National Forests and grizzlies 

Now’s the time to support the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, stand up for our public lands, and fight to preserve critical habitat for native species for future generations. Please take a moment to contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to support NREPA and oppose the continued corporate welfare that subsidizes the destruction of grizzly bear habitat.

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

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