Montana: 9th circuit overules Flathead NF decision putting roads use ahead of grizzly use

A common theme in government environmental policy is to create
eco-protections that can be easiely discarded in favor of industrial
needs. On rare occasion these maneuvers are found to be unlawful.
–Editor, Forest Policy Research

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a court ruling that
allowed the Flathead National Forest to avoid strict adherence to road
management standards in the area burned by the 2001 Moose Fire. In a
five-page ruling issued Tuesday, the appellate court found that U.S.
District Judge Donald Molloy erred in applying his own standard for
determining when land uses compete with the habitat needs of grizzly
bears, a threatened species.

The court order calls for the Forest
Service to “establish and apply a standard when land use values
‘compete’ with grizzly bears’ needs within the meaning of the forest
plan.” In addition to salvage logging, the Moose Post Fire Project
involved road management provisions that mostly called for forest
roads to be closed or obliterated to meet road density standards
adopted in 1995 under Forest Plan Amendment 19. But the post-fire
project included a ‘site-specific amendment” that allowed the Forest
Service to deviate from those road density standards. Forest Road 316
was allowed to remain open and nearly a dozen culverts were retained
under other roads that were supposed to be closed by culvert removal.
The culverts were retained to allow for continued snowmobiling access
under the terms of a settlement agreement reached in separate
litigation over snowmobile access. Environmental groups including
Friends of the Wild Swan, the Swan View Coalition, Alliance for the
Wild Rockies and Wildlands CPR sued in 2003, challenging the project’s
road management plans. Molloy ruled in favor of the Forest Service in
2006. “The Flathead was wrong when it chose motorized recreation over
grizzly bears,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends
of the Wild Swan. “Finally, they must follow their own forest plan
standards and the law.” Keith Hammer, chairman of the Swan View
Coalition, added that “This ruling means you can’t promise wildlife
one thing in your forest plan, then arbitrarily take it away when it’s
time to go logging and motoring.” Hammer and Montgomery assert that
the ruling means the Flathead Forest must redo travel management
portions of its Moose project to bring it into compliance with the
forest’s road density standards. But that may not be the case, said
Joe Krueger, environmental coordinator for the Flathead Forest. “We
are definitely not clear what it means and how to proceed from here.
We’ll be sitting down with our attorneys,” said Krueger, who believes
the appellate court ruling appears to be calling for more definition
in the forest plan.

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