Once in a great while, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a grassroots forest-protection group focused on protecting native fish and wildlife habitat and ecosystem integrity, scores a victory for the voiceless in Idaho’s great North wildlands. Yesterday, a federal district court judge suspended a large U.S. Forest Service-USDA timber sale in the “Idaho Panhandle” area, which will protect some grizzly bears hanging onto life by a thread in the Selkirk Mountains. Selkirk grizzlies are scarce and endangered, persisting on the brink of extinction.
“U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Friday in favor of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and issued a preliminary injunction on the 2,500-acre (1,000-hectare) Hanna Flats Logging Project in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.”
The Selkirk Mountains originate at Mica Peak near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and extend approximately 326 miles north into Canada. The range is about 106 miles wide and roughly bounded by the Columbia River. Across the range, elevations range from approximately 1,700 feet to over 11,000 feet, with the high point being Mount Sir Sandford at 11,555 feet.
Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies explained a few particulars in a Counterpunch op-ed piece that ran today. Garrity said: “The Hanna Flats logging project is located near the west side of Priest Lake in northern Idaho. The area is home to a dwindling population of endangered Selkirk grizzly bears. This tiny grizzly population is already failing three out of four recovery targets, and just experienced its highest mortality rate since 2008. Roads and logging are the greatest threat to this population on these public lands. Yet the Forest Service refuses to follow its own rules and conserve this imperiled grizzly population. This refusal occurs even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just found that a reduction in conservation measures for the Selkirk grizzly bear creates a low probability that it will survive in the wild.”
“In addition to providing habitat for this rare grizzly bear, the Upper Priest River has the largest contiguous area of old-growth cedar, hemlock, and grand fir in the interior western United States and the largest concentration of ancient cedar stands in northern Idaho. The logging project is strongly opposed by local residents who cherish this unique area near Priest Lake, Idaho for its natural beauty and abundant recreational opportunities.”
The court’s order concluded; “The [Forest Service] thus, once again, failed to apply [Healthy Forests Restoration Act’s] definition of wildland-urban interface in determining whether the Project area is excluded from the [National Environmental Policy Act] requirements. Instead, the [Forest Service] relied exclusively on Bonner County’s community wildfire protection plan’s determination of the wildland-urban interface. As explained in Hanna Flats I, Bonner County’s [plan] uses a definition that is inconsistent with [Healthy Forests Restoration Act’s] definition of the wildland-urban interface…and cannot provide the justification for a categorical exclusion under [Healthy Forests Restoration Act].” Because the Forest Service violated clear federal law, the court ordered that the “Hanna Flats Project is SUSPENDED until further order of the Court.” https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/07/27/federal-court-halts-north-idaho-logging-plans-due-to-government-abuse-of-process/
It’s a good day for grizzlies and the incredibly diverse northern forests of the Idaho Panhandle. Feels good. I believe I’ll celebrate this one tonight.