A federal judge has ruled in favor of grizzly bears and bull trout in our lawsuit against the 2018 revised Flathead Forest Plan!
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy cited Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in ruling that federal agencies were negligent in abandoning the prior Plan's Amendment 19 road management protections for grizzly bear and bull trout, saying it is "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. Its requirement that culverts be removed from permanently closed roads is credited with helping protect threatened bull trout from the sediment released by inevitable culvert wash-outs.
The revised Flathead Forest Plan abandoned these requirements, so Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan filed a lawsuit in 2019. Judge Molloy's 6/24/21 Order 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.
Our victory should also slow down federal efforts to remove ESA protection from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear population, which is premised on the same abandonment of Amendment 19 road and motorized vehicle management.
Click here for our joint press release with Earthjustice.
Click here for Judge Molloy's Order.
Click here for more background on our lawsuit, first filed in 2019.
WildEarth Guardians and others also filed a lawsuit against the Flathead Forest Plan, which the court combined with ours.
The revised Flathead Forest Plan pledged to maintain the on-the-ground grizzly bear habitat conditions that existed in 2011, in order to be consistent with the NCDE Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy and plans to remove Endangered Species Act protections from NCDE grizzly bears.
Now the Flathead says it will not maintain those levels of habitat security as it increases human development of bear habitat - and claims it isn't required to do so under its revised (2018) Forest Plan!
Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Independent Wildlife Consultant Brian Peck summarize this about-face in their primary Objection to the Flathead's Hellroaring Basin Improvement's Project.
The Flathead admits the HBIP would reduce grizzly bear habitat security in Hellroaring Basin by constructing two new chairlifts, their service roads, new ski runs, and the thinning of forest hiding cover for glade skiing. The Flathead also admits that two mountain bike trails to be built in Hellroaring Basin, among the 28 miles being constructed under the already approved Taylor Hellroaring Project, will also displace bears from their habitat.
The Flathead nonetheless attempts to make it look like this is consistent with its pledge to maintain the level of 2011 grizzly bear habitat security, a 1995 requirement to maintain bear security in Hellroaring Basin on the south side of Big Mountain as Whitefish Mountain Resort was expanded to the north side of Big Mountain, and the revised Forest Plan’s condition to provide increased grizzly bear security in the Hellroaring watershed. It does so by saying it will maintain its 2011 baseline security parameters, but then intentionally not quantifying the additional displacement of bears and not measuring it against those parameters, making it appear the 2011 baseline is not being degraded.
The Objectors find this same "phony numbers" system is being applied to all projects being implemented under the revised Forest Plan, masking the on-the-ground impacts of scores of miles of new logging road construction, the construction of 80 miles of new mountain bike trails, and ski area developments like those in Hellroaring Basin. Objectors list five ways in which impacts to bears are not being included in, and hence limited by, the 2011 baseline security parameters:
1. Allowing unlimited miles of non-motorized trails to be constructed with no trail density standard - or 2011 Baseline parameter - to limit them.
2. Allowing unlimited miles of non-motorized “high-use” trails to exist in the Secure Core Baseline parameter by redefining the previous Plan's Amendment 19 “Security Core” in order to allow them to go undetected in the revised Plan’s “Secure Core.” “Security Core” did not allow such high-use trails.
3. Allowing an unlimited mileage of roads - by not including roads with the entrance simply rendered “impassable” to motor vehicles in Total Road Density, even though the road will be retained as a road and continue to contribute human impacts to grizzly bear habitat. This was not allowed under Amendment 19, which required that roads had to be reclaimed and no longer function as roads or trails, motorized or non-motorized, to be omitted from TRD.
4. By not including Special Use Permit roads that are on Forest Service land, and often simply closed by gates, in calculations of TRD.
5. By allowing road construction and the relaxing of road closure types to diminish the amount of “security habitat” greater than 500 meters from roads simply because that habitat does not already remain in blocks of at least 2,500 acres. This is essentially a license to further fragment already fragmented habitats and further relegate security habitat to higher elevations rather than allow it to persist in critical lower elevations such as Hellroaring Basin.
Objectors ask for a new Environmental Impact Statement to look at the cumulative impacts of the many projects being implemented under the revised Forest Plan, the degradation of bear habitat and security going unaccounted for, and to reinstate the former Plan's Amendment 19 with modifications to insure that it does not allow impacts to bears to go unaccounted for.
The details of the Flathead's admissions are summarized in Objectors' primary Objection and in the Flathead's Project File Exhibits it references.
Click here for our primary Objection to the Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project.
Click here and scroll down for links to the various Project File Exhibits referenced in our primary Objection.
Click here for our supplemental Objection to the Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project (detailing inconsistencies with the Forest Plan and the National Environmental Policy Act).
Click here for our Objection press release.
Click here for the resulting Missoula Current news article.
Click here for the Flathead's Hellroaring Basin, Taylor Hellroaring, and other project documents.
(updated 7/1/19 and 10/21/19)
Dr. Chris Servheen says he opposes the issuance of Special Use Permits for ultra-marathon trail-running races in bear habitat and wants permits for mountain bike guiding to comply with interagency recommendations for minimizing bear-human conflicts.
His comments were submitted to the Flathead National Forest during a public comment period on several such permits.
Dr. Servheen was Chair of the Board of Review investigating the death of Brad Treat when he slammed into a grizzly bear while mountain biking at high speed on the Flathead NF.
The Board of Review, which included two Flathead NF staff, recommends that people not run or bike fast in bear habitat. The BOR based its recommendations on numerous instances of people and bears being injured or killed due to surprise encounters during running and biking.
Dr. Servheen wrote "Issuing such permits will send the public a very conflicting message about how to recreate in bear habitat and send a bad message about the veracity of agency advice about how to recreate safely where there are bears . . . doing so will contradict years of agency educational efforts."
Flathead Forest Supervisor Chip Weber objected to the recommendations of the BOR at the June 25 meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and in an opinion piece to newspapers. He falsely claims that trail running and fast mountain biking are no more likely to cause a human-bear encounter than walking or hiking.
News accounts and Swan View's response to Weber note that the BOR cites substantial research in support of its findings and recommendations.
Click here to read the Daily Inter Lake article "Bear Expert Opposes Permits for Running Events."
Click here for Dr. Servheen's comments.
Click here for the Board of Review Recommendations.
Click here for MT Dept. of Fish Wildlife and Parks' findings: "Increased speed can increase the likelihood of surprising a bear at close range. Even during planned events with numerous participants, negative encounters including fatalities, can and have occurred."
Click here for MTPR's story on the IGBC meeting.
Click here for the Missoulian article about Supervisor Weber's objections.
Click here for Supervisor Weber's guest opinion.
Click here for Swan View Coalition's letter to editors in response to Weber's objections.
Click here for "When Cyclists Collide with Bears," an excellent summary of bike-bear collisions and the research showing fast travel results in increased risk of surprise encounters between people and bears!
Click here for "Who Owns the Wild: Grizzlies or Humans? The fight to balance recreation with wildlife is coming to a head."
Click here for Swan View's press release expressing disappointment in the approval of the Whitefish Legacy Partners and Foys to Blacktail trail marathon permits and the dangerous precedent they set on the Flathead NF.
Click here for more background on this issue.
UPDATED 4/15/19: The government did not respond to our February 8 60-day notice so on April 15, 2019, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on our behalf in U.S. District Court in Missoula, MT.
Click here for our Court Complaint.
Click here for our 4/15/19 press release.
Click here to read the Missoulian article in this matter.
Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan have filed a 60-day notice that they will file suit over the Flathead Forest Plan's abandonment of key protections for threatened grizzly bear and bull trout!
The photo above was taken by the Flathead National Forest of its logging road 10753. It considers this road so well "stored" and "impassable" to motor vehicles that it need not be counted as a road in total road density - as though it does not continue to impact fish and wildlife!
Mandatory limits on the road system that were in the prior Forest Plan's Amendment 19 have been fully abandoned in the revised Plan. The Flathead no longer has to decommission old logging roads and remove culverts in order to protect grizzly bears and bull trout, even though research shows bears are displaced by even closed roads and bull trout suffer from the sediment produced by roads.
The Flathead recently revealed what it thinks it can get away with under its revised Plan. Its Mid-Swan Landscape "Restoration" Project would build 60 miles of new permanent logging roads and an unspecified mileage of "temporary" logging roads! In contrast, under Amemendment 19, the Flathead built only 3.2 miles of new road since 1995.
Earthjustice has agreed to represent us in this matter!
Click here for our press release.
Click here for our Notice of Intent to file suit.
Click here to read the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake's article in this matter.
Click here for good reasons to doubt the government's claims that grizzly bears are "recovered" in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
Dr. David Mattson questions government claims of grizzly bear recovery in this hour-long video and this Report presenting an alternative vision of robust recovery for grizzly bears in the lower 48 states.
Government spokepeople would have us believe that the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear population continues to grow at a rapid pace, fueling dramatic increases in distribution, and that they know with remarkable precision how many bears are there.
In fact, Dr. Mattson explains, we know very little about the current size and trajectory of this bear population. Moreover, episodes of rapid increase in distribution have more plausibly been driven by changes in habitat and diet than by increases in bear numbers.
Click here for our press advisory that summarizes Dr. Mattson's presentation. It includes a link to the video of his presentation and an annotated, video timestamp index to highlights.
You can also go straight to the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pfIBnZtjTw .
(This post updated 6/20/19 to include the new Report).
UPDATE: Swan View Coalition testified on behalf of 15 other groups and organizations at a July 7, 2016 Grizzly Bear Habitat Workshop in Missoula, MT. We submitted more comments in January 2018 when FWS asked for comments, this time on its Draft Supplement to include HBRC in the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.
Click here for our 1/3/18 comments.
Click here for our 1/23/18 comments.
All you need to say is that you want grizzly bear recovery based on the promised security of grizzly bear habitat and key bear foods - and that you want FWS to abandon its current plan to instead reduce grizzly bear security in the face of growing human populations and impacts.
Remember, while the grizzly bear population in the entire Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem was estimated to be 765 bears in 2004 and has hopefully increased by a couple hundred bears since then, the human population of Flathead County alone grew by 1,800 people in 2014 and is estimated to reach 100,000 by 2018!
Click here to read Swan View's testimony or to help fine-tune your email to FWS.
Click here to watch NBC's coverage of the workshop.
Click here to read the Missoulian newspaper article about the workshop.
Click here to watch KPAX coverage of the workshop.
Click here (then scroll down) to view a list of links to the 26 documents attached to Swan View Coalition's testimony.
Swan View Coalition has issued a critical review of the Biological Assessment of the final revised Flathead Forest Plan, along with Friends of the Wild Swan.
The groups find the Plan wholly inadequate in its protection of fish, wildlife and wildlands. Their review is based on the Flathead's Biological Assessment of the pending revised Flathead Forest Plan.
The Assessment was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act along with other Biological Assessments and Biological Opinions written for recently completed consultations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding impacts to threatened grizzly bear, bull trout and lynx.
The Flathead had promised to post the Assessments and Opinions on its Forest Planning web site by December 1, but instead provided them to Swan View Coalition on CD. The Flathead had hoped to release its revised Forest Plan in November and is now hoping to do so in December.
The Flathead is also responsible for writing and releasing Forest Plan grizzly bear amendments for the other four Forests in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, reducing protections for grizzly bear in all five Plans as Fish and Wildlife Service plans to remove (delist) the NCDE grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act protections in 2018.
UPDATE: The Flathead did release its revised Forest Plan and NCDE amendments on December 14, 2017, posting them, the BAs and the BiOps on its Forest Planning page.
Click here for the groups' 12/12/17 press release, which secured us coverage in the following news:
Click here for the 12/15/17 Daily Inter Lake news article.
Click here for the 12/16/17 Flathead Beacon news article.
Click here for the 12/16/17 Missoulian news article.
Click here for the 12/14/17 MTPR radio story.
Click here for the Flathead's Biological Assessment of its revised Forest Plan.
Click here for FWS's Biological Opinion on the revised Flathead Forest Plan.
Click here for the Biological Assessment of the Four-Forest Grizzly Bear Plan Amendments.
Click here for FWS's Biological Opinion on the Four-Forest Grizzly Bear Plan Amendments.
Nokio Creek culvert blowout - Flathead NF photo.
Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan and WildEarth Guardians put the Flathead National Forest on notice they will file suit over logging road impacts to bull trout.
Below is the press release with links to the Notice of Intent to File Suit and Keith Hammer's "Roads to Ruin" report providing photos and background on the failure of the Flathead NF to adequately inspect and maintain its logging roads and culverts.
Click here for the resulting KAJ-TV coverage using photos like the one above.
Click here for the resulting Daily Inter Lake news article by Patrick Reilly.
Click here to read our rebuttal to the Flathead Forest Supervisor's claim that there are no "impaired" watersheds on his Forest due to proactive management.
Click here for the resulting Missoulian news article by Perry Backus.
Failures in Road Management Place Bull Trout at Risk
Conservation Groups Send Notice of Intent to File Suit to Flathead National Forest
November 16, 2017
Kalispell, MT – Yesterday three conservation groups warned the Forest Service of their intent to file suit under the Endangered Species Act in order to protect threatened bull trout and its critical habitat. The Forest Service’s inadequate management and monitoring of logging roads on the Flathead National Forest in northwest Montana threatens to degrade bull trout streams by increasing the risk of culvert failure, leading to road washouts that smother streams in road sediment, destroy fish eggs and prevent young fish from growing.
The notice letter outlines the Forest Service’s failure to comply with numerous biological opinions written by the Fish and Wildlife Service during the past fifteen years. These biological opinions directed the Forest Service to remove stream-aligned culverts from closed logging roads—or, alternatively, to monitor them annually to insure they do not plug. Plugged culverts are prone to fail over time due to accumulation of dirt and debris in the small openings. A plugged culvert is likely to blow out during a rain or snowmelt event, depositing sediment into bull trout streams.
Though the Forest Service has largely failed to follow either of the Fish and Wildlife Service directives, records show it is aware that far more culverts are failing or are at high risk of failing than initially thought, and that failing roads and culverts put the bull trout and its habitat in peril.
In addition to its history of inadequate road management, the Forest Service proposed to relax culvert monitoring from annual monitoring to monitoring once every six years. Best science and a history of culvert failures on the Flathead and other national forests do not support such a move: culverts can plug and blow out in a single season if not inspected and cleaned.
Swan View Coalition Chair Keith Hammer has spent the last couple of years requesting the Flathead’s annual culvert monitoring reports. “The Flathead has failed pretty much across the board to conduct annual culvert monitoring,” he said. “The monitoring it has done shows that up to two-thirds of the culverts inspected are at high risk of failure. Rather than dedicate the funding and staff to do the inspections and either fix or remove the culverts, the Flathead is looking to eliminate the requirement for annual inspections.”
“Our native fish require cold, clean water to spawn and rear,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Unmaintained culverts are like ticking time bombs in our streams; when they plug up and blow out they dump tons of sediment into spawning gravels, impacting reproduction and growth of fish. By ignoring the required monitoring the Flathead is endangering our water quality and fish habitat.”
“We hope the Fish and Wildlife Service rejects the Forest Service’s attempt to move the goal posts by abandoning annual culvert inspections,” said Marla Fox of WildEarth Guardians. “Rewarding poor performance with lower expectations would set a horrible precedent for other forests to bypass legally required protections that the Service determined necessary for bull trout survival and recovery.”
The notice letter cites to agency documents showing that agency assumptions that only 10-15% of culverts were at high risk of failing were replaced with findings of 35-40% and as high as 67% of culverts at high risk of failing. Notice, page 14.
The letter also cites to documents acknowledging 22 culverts had failed on the roads that had been inspected and that more failures were expected. Notice at 12-13.