Legal Action Taken to Protect Forests Along the Flathead River

MISSOULA, Montana, February 28, 2012 (ENS) – To protect the pristine South Fork of the Flathead River corridor from an industrial logging project, two local conservation groups, Friends of the Wild Swan and Swan View Coalition, today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service’s proposed Spotted Bear logging project would use helicopters, ground-based equipment, and skylines to remove approximately 11 million board foot of timber across 1,853 acres of pristine wildlife habitat adjacent to the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas.

An additional 1,347 acres would be burned. The conservationists say the area’s wildife, already teetering on the edge of survival, would be jeopardized.

“I’m shocked the Forest Service would propose such an aggressive, destructive project in the South Fork,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena that is representing the conservation groups. “The South Fork’s status as a protected wild and scenic river and critical habitat for imperiled species means something under the law.”

Big Salmon Lake, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

The South Fork of the Flathead River is a protected wild and scenic river that is inhabited by the some of the most imperiled animals in the continental United States including lynx, wolverine, grizzly bear, gray wolves, fisher and bull trout.

The area was designated as critical habitat for lynx and bull trout and deemed essential to the survival and recovery of grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies. Wolverine, a rare forest carnivore, is also known to live and hunt in the project area.

“Logging this critical wildlife area is an irretrievable loss,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “It will take over 100 years for this forest to regrow and in the interim wildlife are displaced from important seasonal habitats.”

She says this area should be “managed for the wildlife that lives here, not for industrial forestry.”

Most of the units slated to be logged for the Spotted Bear logging project are mature, 75-140 year old stands of Douglas fir, western larch, spruce, and lodgepole pine that have never been logged, although this area burned in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

To access the remote area, the Forest Service is proposing to open 9.7 miles of roads that were closed to provide security for elk and grizzly bears and build 6.6 miles of new “temporary” roads that will be used over six years. At least 2,200 log trucks would be needed to load out the timber.

The Forest Service also proposes to increase motorized access to the project area by extending the season of use by an additional five weeks, allowing motorized vehicles to access the area in early June.

The conservationists warn that this intrusion can traumatize grizzly bears who will have just recently emerged from their dens and will likely be hungry.

“The Spotted Bear area is a critical wildlife connector,” said Keith Hammer, who chairs the Swan View Coalition. “Calving elk and nutritionally stressed bears need more springtime and early summer security, not more motor vehicle traffic.”

The wild, unimpaired character of the South Fork is critical to the local economy, the conservation groups point out. They warn that industrial logging will disrupt recreation and cause unsafe conditions.

Hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, boating, rafting and other recreational pursuits are the primary activities in the remote South Fork Flathead River area, which is also the gateway to the Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wilderness areas.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.