Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Conservation groups this week asked Missoula federal district court to prevent the Kootenai National Forest from building logging roads on the west side of the Yaak region starting in mid-May.

After filing a lawsuit 10 months ago challenging the 56,000-acre Knotty Pine Project north of Troy, the groups have asked for an injunction to stop the Kootenai Forest from opening closed roads and building new ones until the case is decided.

The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Yaak Valley Forest Council, WildEarth Guardians and Native Ecosystems Council.

A year ago, Kootenai Forest supervisor Chadwick Benson approved the Knotty Pine Project, which, among other activities, allowed more than 5,000 acres of commercial logging over 10 years – including 57 acres of old-growth forest and 14 clearcuts of between 40 and 220 acres – for the purpose of harvesting 29 million board-feet of lumber. Two miles of logging road would be built and another 35 miles would be reconstructed.

The groups oppose the project because all but 1,200 acres of the project lies within core habitat of the Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Area. The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is dangerously small, with only 45 bears throughout the 2,600 square-mile recovery area, according to a 2020 estimate. Of those, five collared bears reside within the Knotty Pine project area.

While logging activities don’t help, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified roads as the most imminent threat to grizzlies today because roads allow people to invade deeper into grizzly habitat, which leads to accidental and defense-of-life shootings and poaching. It also pushes bears into other areas that may not be good habitat.

The groups say the Kootenai Forest has violated its own Forest Management Plan by conducting a less-rigorous environmental assessment rather than a full environmental impact statement.

In mid-June, after the groups filed their complaint, the Forest Service said that it would delay ground-disturbing activities such as road building until May 15 of this year, because all briefing in the lawsuit was to be completed by January. However, with various delays, the final briefing won’t occur until Wednesday.

In November, the Forest Service admitted it had already rebuilt more than 2 miles of road during October, including some through the grizzly core area, according to court documents. So the groups are asking the judge to place all construction on hold until a ruling has been made.

“Only an immediate court order can stop the Forest Service from punching in new roads and clearing illegal roads before the logging trucks roll in,” said Adam Rissien of WildEarth Guardians. “Once established, these roads do not go away and will continue to harm grizzly bears for years to come.”

The Knotty Pine Project is one of five logging projects totaling almost 315,000 acres in the Yaak region approved by the Kootenai Forest.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at