The following is a press release from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. A copy of the lawsuit is here. – mk
“Grizzly numbers in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem continue to decline every year,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “In spite of these falling grizzly bear numbers the Forest Service plans to commercially log thousands of acres and then use low-level helicopter flights to light prescribed fires in occupied grizzly habitat. Its well-known science that low-level overflights by helicopters ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears in violation of the Endangered Species Act. But even though we cited the legal cases, the rulings of federal judges, and even the agency’s own policies that ban such activities, the Forest Service refused to listen. So now we’re going to court to stop them.”
The proposed logging and burning will occur in the remote and biologically rich Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem, Garrity explained. The area contains designated critical habitat for Canada lynx and grizzly bear.
“The grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak is the only population of grizzly bears in the United States that is known to be in decline,” Garrity continued. “Data indicate that the grizzly bear population in the Cabintet-Yakk is declining primarily due to unsustainable levels of of human-caused mortality.”
The rate of population decline for the grizzly bear population for the CYE has been calculated to be between 2.7-4.1 percent of the population annually. Between 1982 and 2009, 37 grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak area died from human causes, with poaching being the leading individual source of mortality. “Add to that the decreasing population trend, genetic and demographic isolation, inadequate habitat protections, increased fragmentation both within the recovery zone due to mines and private land development and it’s clear why this population is considered endangered,” said Garrity.
“The dwindling population of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears are almost certainly going extinct according the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Yet, the agency is ignoring its own science,” added Garrity. “The small population of only 45 bears is less than half of the minimum of 100 bears needed ensure a genetically-stable population. That fails to meet the federal government’s own recovery goal and these projects would only have accelerated the loss of this population of grizzlies.”
Matt Bishop, the attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center representing the Alliance in the lawsuit, explained the specifics of the project – and the consequences to both grizzly bears and endangered Canada lynx which inhabit the area. “In spite of the known impacts to the dwindling grizzly population, this project authorizes commercial logging of approximately 8 million board feet of timber from 28 units totaling approximately 2,168 acres and 1,042 acres may be logged prior to burning,” Bishop said. “This includes numerous large clearcuts, which will connect to previous clearcuts to create six large openings. These six openings will be 540, 279, 269, 220, 163, and 99 acres in size.”
“In the past 15 years, a stunning 63 percent of the Young Dodge planning area has been logged,” Bishop continued. “A variety of different forms of logging resembling clearcuts has been used: clearcuts with reserves, seed tree cuts, shelterwood cuts, and sanitation salvage cuts. Seed tree and shelterwood cuts are basically clearcuts, except a small number of trees are left per acre. Seed tree cuts remove 85-90% of the forest canopy and leave 8-20 trees per acre. Shelterwood cuts remove 60-75% of the forest canopy and leave 10-40 trees per acre.”
“The Forest Service’s own research shows that lynx avoid logged areas and especially clearcuts. Lynx need forest with a lot of downed trees. When the dead trees fall, they provide cover and habitat for snowshoe hares and squirrels, which in turn are eaten by pine marten, lynx, goshawks and great gray owls. The downed trees also provide important cover for big game, lynx, and grizzly bears.”
“This is a relatively small area and losing that much habitat to clearcuts would definitely displace the bears and lynx from thousands of acres,” Bishop concluded. “The federal government’s own data show the grizzlies need more secure habitat, not less, or this population of bears and the lynx in the lower 48 states are going to vanish. We would just as soon see the federal government follow the law and its own science, but since the Forest Service chose not to, we were left with little option but to challenge this logging.”
“The Forest Service’s own research shows that lynx population in Montana is currently declining and habitat loss will do nothing but exacerbate this decline,” Garrity added. “Montana has less than 300 lynx — yet this is more than any other state in the Lower 48. It makes no sense for federal government to borrow more money from China to subsidize clearcutting so we can ship more lumber to China at a cost of more dead lynx and more federal debt.
“This is the yet another example of the Forest Service trying to push money-losing, illegal logging in endangered species habitat,” said Garrity. “It’s hard to believe that, as Congress struggles with deficit reduction, the Forest Service is trying to move forward with a timber sale that will lose $4 million in taxpayers’ dollars when the federal government is cutting vital programs due to the sequester,” Garrity concluded.