Lawsuit filed against Kootenai National Forest logging project

The Kootenai National Forest's Young Dodge logging project (analysis area pictured above in this Google image) is located approximately 15 miles northwest of Eureka, MT on the west side of Lake Koocanusa.  The very top of this image is the US/Canadian border. The extensive network of clearcuts and logging roads already within the Young Dodge project area are clearly visible in this image. In fact, according to AWR's attorney, "in the past 15 years, a stunning 63% of the Young Dodge planning area has been logged."
The Kootenai National Forest’s Young Dodge logging project (analysis area pictured above in this Google image) is located approximately 15 miles northwest of Eureka, MT on the west side of Lake Koocanusa. The very top of this image is the US/Canadian border. The extensive network of clearcuts and logging roads already within the Young Dodge project area are clearly visible in this image. In fact, according to AWR’s attorney, “in the past 15 years, a stunning 63% of the Young Dodge planning area has been logged.”

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.

13 thoughts on “Lawsuit filed against Kootenai National Forest logging project”

  1. So my current regional hypothesis is that Oregon is still entrenched in timber wars … and Montana for some reason has the Garrity effect..projects that would not attract much interest are litigated by him and other groups.

    Given the outcome of Colt Summit, we know that these aren’t all legal “winners.” It does make me wonder where the bucks are coming from… since many places don’t see this degree of litigation.

    • Sharon, I think you meant to say “Garrity Effect” (with a capital “E”). I mean, if you’re going to be that way, might as well be grammatically correct, right?

      Seems to me, Sharon, that you have no problem with the Forest Service building an extra 9 miles of new roads withiin this already heavily roaded project area. Of course, National Forests in Montana contain over 33,000 miles of logging roads and the road maintenance backlog on those existing roads in approximately $500,000,000.00. And yet, one part of the federal government pulls air traffic controllers from some airports because of the sequester, yet here another part of the federal government is building new logging roads, when nationally the maintenance backlog on existing roads totals nearly $10 billion.

      And, Sharon, do you really think, looking at that Google image, that this area needs even more logging to create six large openings that will be 540, 279, 269, 220, 163, and 99 acres in size? I mean, seriously, Sharon, I can sort of understand that with your world view there has never once been a justifiable lawsuit against a Forest Service timber sale project, but just when is “enough is enough” for you?

      • OK, I gotta say that I would prefer if some other person (local retiree?) would volunteer to read and understand the Montana projects. I’m sure there is some rationale for what they are doing, but would prefer not to dig it up myself, Since I am not paid by a nice foundation or anyone else for that matter.

        Any volunteers out there?

  2. Ahh, thank goodness – Fresh fodder! I think we got all the mileage we could out of Colt Summit, although the discussions probably won’t change much though.

  3. Since logging in “pristine” areas is frowned upon, and now that already-impacted areas are off-limits, just where is the “sweet spot”, where the logging levels are “just right” for the “Three Bears”? *smirk*

  4. I started my USFS career on the Kootenai, so I know some parts of this forest. And additional years on the IPNF here in north Idaho, a neighbor of the Kootenai.
    Larry, the reality is that these forests were very, very heavily roaded and logged over the past 75 years. The Coeur d’Alene River drainage on the IPNF alone contains thousands of miles of logging roads.
    What’s my point? It is that in this part of the Rockies there is not much flexibility remaining for more roads and clearcuts. If you clearcut and road 20-40 percent of a watershed and want to go back in for more logs, you are going to create some issues, both biological and/or political.
    So you can smirk and wonder why folks are stirring the pot in this part of the country re commercial logging. It was grossly overdone decades ago, and much of the area has not adequately recovered.
    Think of it this way…if you overdraw your savings account for a few years for a new car or boat, then later on you may have to forego any additional new toys. The log account in some of these areas has been overdrawn. It is too bad that the few remaining sawmills (and woods workers) have to be penalized for the gluttonly of those before them. Sawmills in this area made out like bandits during the housing booms of the past few decades. The smart owners either sold out or burned out and are now retired in the Bahamas. And the world goes on.

    • Of course, I wasn’t specifically talking about this part of the Kootenai. I’m also not a fan of more roads and clearcutting. Again, I’m just stressing that plans (and opposition) must be site specific. I also know that road densities vary according to the terrain. It is important to know that steeper and more difficult landscapes require longer roads to get to higher elevations. Yes, I worked on the Boise National Forest, so I know the difficulties and realities of roads.

      Also, we should not be blaming the past to block the future. We need to be in the present, to get a better view of an uncertain future. I’m not really convinced that this project can make it through the court system. It isn’t enough to win in District Court. It will be interesting to see how the Forest Service will defend this project.

      Once again, is there an optimal road density where timber projects can be allowed without road issues? In my experience, here in California, new road construction should be kept to a bare minimum, if needed at all. Temp roads work better for us, as we have plenty of good existing roads, already.

  5. You shouldn’t believe everything you read in litigation complaints, nor in news stories that don’t show both sides… now if there is a muzzle (intentional or cultural) on the FS telling its story, that’s not the journalists’ fault. Still, I don’t think we should rely on retirees with no public affairs background (like me) to tell the FS side of the story. Fortunately it’s fairly easy.. you just need to read the ROD here (yes, it’s 76 pages).

    Here is the description of the project:

    In order to reduce fuel accumulations, both within and outside of the wildland-urban interface, to decrease the likelihood that wildfires would become large stand-replacing wildfires, and to restore historical vegetation patterns, stand structure, and patch sizes on the landscape. Another 1,042 acres may have commercial products removed in units identified in the “Prescribed Burn with Mechanical Pre-Treatment” category.
    • Salvage of up to 200 acres of incidental mortality resulting from prescribed fire, if necessary. This salvage would be expected to take place in or adjacent to treatment units authorized under this decision.
    • Use of site-specific silvicultural prescriptions, logging systems, fuel treatments, riparian habitat conservation areas, and reforestation practices.
    • Underburning without harvest in 19 units totaling approximately 3,986 acres in order to achieve fuel reduction objectives.
    • Road maintenance activities on portions of 98 miles of roads in order to reduce impacts to soil and water resources; decommissioning of approximately 11.7 miles of roads to provide beneficial effects to the watersheds; placing approximately 27 miles of roads in intermittent stored service status to r store natural drainage patterns and reduce maintenance costs; and adding about 8.5 miles of “unauthorized” roads to the National Forest Road System.
    • Rerouting and reconstructing approximately one and a half miles of non-motorized hiking trail and construct a small parking area.
    • Renovation of the Robinson Mountain Lookout to include it in the cabin rental program.
    • A project-specific Forest Plan amendment to Management Area (MA) 12 Wildlife and Fish standard #7 to allow regeneration harvest in big game movement corridors adjacent to previous harvest openings and openings greater than 40 acres.

    If the ROD’s 8.5 miles are the same as your 9 miles, Matthew, then they are adding existing roads to the NFS system roads. Why would they do that? We could find out simply by reading the ROD.

    It provides a transportation system that increases security for big game, reduces impacts to aquatic resources, and insures economical and safe access Access to the Project Area for forest users, homeowners, resource managers, and commercial operations are important aspects to consider. At the same time, roads have the potential to impact wildlife, water and air quality, and user safety. Therefore, it is critical that the road system be designed, maintained, and managed to maximize social benefits, while minimizing resource impacts.
    Some roads were identified by the ID Team as no longer needed for present or future resource needs, and will be decommissioned. The long-term reduction in impacts associated with these roads will benefit the streams in the Project Area. Other roads not needed for the next 10-20 years will be placed in intermittent stored service status. This will increase big game security and grizzly bear core habitat.
    Most roads in the Project Area have been regularly maintained, are in good condition, and have met Best Management Practices (BMPs) in the past. However, additional maintenance is needed for some roads or portions of roads in order for them to comply with current BMP standards. This maintenance will benefit water quality by controlling non-point source pollution and reducing the potential for sediment delivery to
    the stream network.
    Additionally, several “unauthorized” roads were identified during the roads analysis. They are considered “unauthorized” because they were not included, by oversight, in the Forest Transportation Atlas completed in 2005. These are in fact existing roads used primarily to access dispersed recreation sites. The roads are needed for the protection, administration, and utilization of the National Forest System and
    the use and development of its resources. They will be added to the National Forest Road System, and will become a permanent part of the transportation system. As the roads are already on the landscape, causing impacts to other resources, adding them to the National Forest Road System will make them eligible for funded maintenance and management which would help reduce the impacts. Some of the roads are currently closed to public motorized access; these will be put into intermittent stored service status.

    So they actually are existing roads, going into the system so they can be managed better.. and they actually aren’t logging roads.

    • Sharon, thanks for digging this up. I certainly wouldn’t want to keep you from your regular practice of tossing some stones at AWR and their attorney (ie your statement, “you shouldn’t believe everything you read in litigation complaints.”)….but the litigation complaint and the press release above from AWR and their attorney mention NOTHING at all about any new road construction. I searched the entire complaint just now and it’s not in there. Same with the press release above.

      The source of my roads comment was the following paragraph in a Missoulian article written by Rob Chaney:

      “The Young Dodge project in the Cabinet-Yaak region of the Kootenai National Forest would log 2,492 acres, do prescribed burning on 3,986 acres, perform maintenance on 97.3 miles of existing road and build 8.85 miles of new roads. It includes several clearcuts of nearly 400 acres in size.”

      I certainly apologize that reading a Missoulian article which listed what the project would do (clearly stating “build 8.85 miles of new roads”) caused me to believe that the project would result in the building of 8.85 miles of new roads. I suppose I should have just directly consulted with the ROD on the Forest Service site. However, for you to directly infer that “you shouldn’t believe everything you read in litigation complaints” because a reporter made a mistake, and I repeated that mistake, shouldn’t be held against AWR or their attorney.

      I’d certainly be curious to know if you believe that anything actually said in AWR’s complaint or press release wasn’t accurate, because as I mentioned, new road construction wasn’t mentioned in either at all. Thanks.

      • You know, I kind of noticed that.. didn’t know where the roads came from.

        Anyway, I stand by my point as being valid “don’t believe everything you read”; after all, litigation is an adversarial process and you wouldn’t expect one side’s opening salvo to be factually nor completely accurate.. and I have seen a great deal of bogus stuff in them in the past, but you’re right, in this case the roads thing was Rob and not them.

        Of course if an FS person had been (allowed to have been?) asked about the story, they might have pointed out that inaccuracy.


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