Court Scraps Montana Logging Because of Bears

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A federal judge in Montana ruled in favor of conservation groups and scrapped the massive Black Ram logging project in Kootenai National Forest. The project threatened a small and imperiled population of grizzly bears near the Montana-Canada border.

“This is a great win for the wild forests and grizzly bears of Montana’s spectacular Yaak Valley,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision affirms that agencies can’t ignore the vulnerability of this small but critical population of grizzlies and can’t turn a blind eye to the climate harms of clearcutting mature forests.”

The project would have allowed nearly 4,000 acres of the Kootenai National Forest to be commercially logged, including clearcutting more than 1,700 acres in an area with a largely isolated, fragile population of about 25 grizzly bears in the Yaak Valley.

The court order prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from implementing the project, which was expected to last 10 years.

In this ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored population declines in the Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzlies, and that the Forest Service failed to address harms to grizzlies from illegal use of motorized vehicles. The court also found that the Forest Service failed to consider the climate harms of logging thousands of acres of forest that currently store carbon.

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The court rejected the Forest Service’s argument that the project would have an “infinitesimal” impact on climate change because young trees would eventually replace the carbon being stored in trees the project would cut down. In his ruling, Molloy said “logging causes immediate carbon losses, while re-sequestration happens slowly over time, time that the planet may not have.