Judge Halts Helicopter Logging in grizzly habitat

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A federal judge has halted a small portion of a northwestern Montana logging project, saying its effect on grizzly bears hasn’t been adequately addressed.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula said the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to sufficiently consider the effects of helicopter logging on “core” grizzly habitat in the Kootenai National Forest.

The July 30 ruling stops the helicopter logging on about 100 acres pending an “adequate assessment.”

Molloy said other logging included in the nearly 1,800-acre project, northeast of Troy, can move forward.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed its challenge to the Northeast Yaak timber sale in December 2007.

It cited documentation for two timber sales in Idaho in which the Fish and Wildlife Service determined helicopter logging was likely to harm grizzly bears.

Molloy ruled the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to distinguish the helicopter logging in the proposed Northeast Yaak timber sale from the Idaho sales to arrive at the conclusion that it wouldn’t harm bears.

The judge noted estimates show there are only 30 to 40 grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone, where the timber sale is located.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population was low enough to warrant reclassification from threatened to endangered in 1993 and reaffirmed its finding in 1999,” Molloy wrote.

Since then, agency scientists have determined there is 91.4 percent probability that the population is declining.

Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, praised Molloy’s ruling.

“We are very pleased that the court stopped the helicopter logging in grizzly bear habitat,” Garrity said Friday. “The Forest Service keeps logging more and more grizzly bear habitat, even though the scientific evidence shows that logging grizzly bear habitat is driving grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone towards extinction.”

A spokesman in the Kootenai National Forest supervisor’s office was out of the office and not available for comment Friday afternoon.