A federal judge has issued a win to WildEarth Guardians and our partners—rejecting crucial aspects of the Flathead National Forest’s revised forest plan that would have paved the way for increased road building and logging on the forest in northwest Montana.
This is a major victory for federally threatened grizzly bears and bull trout, whose population numbers had benefited from the prior forest plan’s more protective road management requirements.
The lawsuit challenged the Forest Service’s decision to abandon key road management requirements despite them being more protective of wildlife habitat and supported by best available science. Exiting the courthouse after oral arguments, I felt cautiously optimistic about Guardians’ chances of success. Thankfully, my gut feeling was spot on.
The judge held the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the U.S. Forest Service’s revised forest plan failed to justify or explain the weakening of protections for grizzly bears and bull trout, in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court also rejected the Forest Service’s reliance on the flawed biological opinion.
This win is likely to have even broader implications beyond the Flathead. The judge ruled that the agencies must consider impacts of the revised plan to the entire grizzly bear population in the lower-48 states, not just the smaller disparate population on the Flathead. The goal under the ESA is survival and recovery of all six grizzly bear ecosystems to ensure, among other things, long-term genetic diversity.
But the fight is not over yet. We are continuing to diligently track the federal agencies’ actions in response to the court order to ensure this legal win equates to real on-the-ground results for grizzly bears and bull trout. Your support is crucial for Guardians to see the work through for the benefit of grizzly bears and bull trout.