A federal district court judge recently ruled in favor of grizzly bears and bull trout in a lawsuit filed by grassroots environmental groups challenging the 2018 revised Flathead Forest Plan. The Flathead National Forest in Northwest Montana has a long history of giving priority to timber industry interests at the expense of wildlife, native fisheries, water quality and what’s left of the untrammeled mixed conifer forest landscape that surrounds Glacier National Park. What happens outside Park boundaries influences what happens inside the arbitrary boundary, and visa versa.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy cited Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in ruling that the federal agencies were negligent in abandoning the prior Plan’s Amendment 19 road management protections (The forestwide Plan recovery standard for over 30 years) for grizzly bear and bull trout. Molloy said: “it’s like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Amendment 19’s road closure and removal requirements are credited with putting threatened grizzly bears on a path toward recovery.
Amendment 19’s requirement that culverts be removed from unnecessary, permanently-closed roads is credited with helping protect threatened bull trout from the sediment released by inevitable clogging and wash-outs where culverts intersect unused and abandoned logging roads.
Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan ( I’m a co-founder and current Board member) filed a lawsuit in 2019. By law, the Forest Service is required to revise Forest Plans every 15 years. This one took over 30 years to complete.
The revised Flathead Forest Plan abandoned these essential requirements that protect water quality, threatened bull trout and grizzly bears.
Judge Molloy’s Order, issued on June 24, 2021, requires the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its abandonment of Amendment 19 and to conduct new Endangered Species Act reviews of any new road-building projects, which are almost exclusively associated with pioneering into unroaded areas in search of old growth (“bill-payin’ trees).
As a bonus, our court victory should slow federal efforts to remove ESA protections from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear population. The government’s delisting efforts also attack the same Amendment 19 road and motorized vehicle management rules (non-discretionary standards).