Opinion: An unbelievably awful logging project for grizzly bears
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies went to federal court on Tuesday to halt the Ripley project, a massive clearcutting and logging project in Cabinet-Yaak grizzly habitat in the Kootenai National Forest southeast of Libby, MT.
The Ripley logging project calls for almost 17 square miles of commercial logging (10,854 acres) including 5 square miles of clearcuts (3,223 acres). Plus the project is a huge money-loser -- by the Forest Service’s own estimate, it will cost taxpayers $643,000 to subsidize this further degradation of an already-degraded landscape.
Much of that cost will be to rebuild and maintain an astounding 93 miles of logging roads, 13 miles of new permanent logging roads, 6 miles of new so-called "temporary" logging roads, an additional 11 miles of illegal, user-created roads that will be officially added to the legal road system, and conversion of a four-mile illegal motorized trail into an authorized motorized trail, and construction of a one or two acre parking area.
It’s astounding the Forest Service would even consider such a massive logging and road construction project in an area just two miles from the official Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Recovery Zone, and less than one mile from the Cabinet Face Bears Outside Recovery Zone.
Presently, two grizzly bear males pass through this area in the spring and fall between the Cabinet Mountains and the Fisher River, and another male grizzly bear has a home range that overlaps the Ripley Project Area along portions of lower Libby Creek. Thus, the locations of at least three different radio-collared grizzlies have been recorded within the Ripley project area in the past 5-7 years.
This means that this area should be protected as a "recurring use area" for grizzly bears, but instead the Forest Service plans to conduct a 25-year logging and road building project that will almost certainly harass and displace these rare bears, and further prevent the recovery of this precarious grizzly population.
The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is in bad shape. The most recent minimum population estimate (published in 2020 for the 2019 monitoring year) for this population is 47 bears, and the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan requires 100 bears for the minimum viable population.
The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is also failing every recovery target: it is failing the target for females with cubs; it is failing the target for distribution of females with cubs; it is failing the female mortality limit (which is 0 mortalities until a minimum of 100 bears is reached); and it is failing the mortality limit for all bears (also 0 mortalities until a minimum of 100 bears is reached).
A published, peer-reviewed scientific journal article, Kendall et al (2015), studied this grizzly population and found that the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Zone is too narrow for grizzly bear home ranges, and the areas outside the Recovery Zone have such high road densities that bears are at great risk in those areas.
So expanded protections for areas bordering the Recovery Zone are necessary for survival and recovery of this population. The research study also found that the Cabinet population is highly inbred. Thus, the study finds: "the small size, isolation, and inbreeding documented by this study demonstrate the need for comprehensive management designed to support population growth and increased connectivity and gene flow with other populations."
Implementing a massive commercial logging and road construction project under these circumstances is simply unacceptable. The Forest Service is supposed to be the steward of our public National Forest lands. By valuing the private profits of the timber industry over the preservation of endangered species the Forest Service is failing to live up to its legal and ethical obligations to our public lands and public wildlife.
Our National Forests are public lands with enormous ecological value. They are carbon sinks, sources of clean water, and refuges of habitat for endangered species. They do not belong to the timber industry, and they do not exist simply to make profits for that industry. When the Forest Service breaks the law, we will hold it accountable.
This is exactly what we are doing by filing a lawsuit against the Ripley Project to protect our incalculably valuable endangered species and public lands for present and future generations. We can't do this without help, please consider donating to help save the Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies.
Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies