Despite a sign, an earth berm, maps, and promises, motorized use of closed road 10561 persists, reducing intended wildlife security!
Swan View Coalition recently released a report based on its 2022 inspection of 303 Forest Service road closure devices in the Flathead National Forest’s Swan Valley Geographic Area. The group found only 53% of the gates, berms and boulders showed no signs of motor vehicle use behind them. When adjusted to account for Forest Service exceptions allowing administrative and logging contractor use behind closures, effectiveness rose to only 68%, far short of the 92% effectiveness claimed by the Flathead NF for 2019-2020.
Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan in 2019 filed a lawsuit over the revised Flathead Forest Plan and Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 biological opinion approving of its effects on threatened grizzly bears and bull trout. On June 24, 2021, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the biological opinion’s “failure to consider the effect of ineffective road closures was arbitrary and capricious” and violated the Endangered Species Act. He cited a 2004 Swan View Coalition road closure study and the Forest Service's own data finding road closures ineffective, ordering FWS to redo its opinion.
FWS issued a revised biological opinion February 16, 2022, relying on the Flathead’s finding its closures were 92% effective, promises of a better road closure monitoring system, and promises that the Forest Service would fix its ineffective closures “as soon as they are able.” The conservation groups filed a new lawsuit against the revised biological opinion in 2022, again arguing it does not adequately contend with the fact that the revised Forest Plan abandoned the prior Plan’s reliance on road reclamation and the removal of culverts to make the closures more effective in protecting grizzly bears and bull trout. Swan View Coalition recently submitted its new road closure report to the District Court as a part of that lawsuit.
The report includes photos showing instances where the Flathead has taken seven years to repair an ineffective closure, even when the likely unlawful killing of a wolverine behind the closure was discovered and reported. Also reported is the fact the Forest Service promised FWS it would continue to monitor closure effectiveness but instead switched to monitoring whether a closure is “functional” in 2021 and 2022. Moreover, the Flathead refused to describe how “functional” compares to “effective” when its inspection data indicates a number of reportedly “functional” closures also show clear evidence of being breached by unauthorized motor vehicles.
“Road reclamation and culvert removals are necessary to protect fish and wildlife,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of Swan View Coalition. “Both agency- and citizen-gathered data show that gates, berms and boulders are not enough to stop motor vehicle trespass and that unmaintained culverts eventually fail and put the road dirt into the trout stream.”
The report is located here.
The U.S. District Court in Missoula has recently ruled against the government's handling of its road closure programs on the Kootenai National Forest and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. (Click on these two links for the Court's Orders, which also provide background on this continuing controversy).
This Missoula Current article by Laura Lundquist also provides more context for our new road closure report.