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Groups submit analysis exposing flaws in Lolo National Forest Draft Assessment and Species of Conservation Concern

July 12, 2023
Adam Rissien, WildEarth Guardians, (409) 370-3147, arissien@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands   Bull trout, Canada lynx, Grizzly bear, Whitebark Pine, Wolverine
#Climate Forests, #PressStatement, #PublicLandsInPublicHands, #Rewilding, #Wildfires, #WildlandsForWildlife
MISSOULA,  MONT.  Six organizations based in western Montana have identified major gaps in the Lolo National Forest’s Draft Assessment and Species of Conservation Concern documents, including inadequate assessments of the legacy road system and the role of mature and old growth forests in ecological and climate resilience. The groups, which include the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Watch and Western Watersheds Project, submitted 170 pages of analysis and comments to the Lolo National Forest in response to an open comments period regarding the Draft Assessment and Species of Conservation Concern documents.  The 30-day comment period closed July 8 after Lolo NF Supervisor Carolyn Upton denied a request from numerous organizations and individuals to extend the comment period by 15 days. As a result, citizens had a truncated 30 days, including the Fourth of July holiday, to absorb and respond to over 900 pages of documents.

“The assessment is the foundation for the entire forest plan revision that will guide agency management for the next 15 – 20 years. It is crucial that the Forest Service gets it right,” said Adam Rissien, ReWilding Manager with WildEarth Guardians. “Sadly, the Lolo National Forest got it wrong in its first draft by failing to fully evaluate its road system or consider the role mature and old growth forests serve in storing carbon, which is an essential part of a broader climate crisis solution.”

“The Draft Assessment is supposed to be a State of the Forest report but huge amounts of information on Forest resources are missing,” said Jake Kreilick with the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force. “What we got was the Forest Service fire mythology which equals massive logging and roadbuilding.”

“The substance of the Draft Assessment is seriously lacking due to the Lolo National Forest’s failure to complete required Monitoring and Evaluation,” said Jim Miller, President of Friends of the Bitterroot. “The trends we see are going in the wrong direction.”

The analysis submitted by the six organizations presented several key findings, including:

  • Major ecosystem stressors including logging, roadbuilding and recreation show disturbing trends of rapid growth and help drive climate change effects;
  • Major ecosystem drivers including habitat and species connectivity, aquatics and native bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout and old growth show disturbing trends of decline as the Lolo has planned or is planning major timber sales in key connectivity areas;
  • The Forest Service has seriously mishandled and mischaracterized the science on wildland fire;
  • The Forest Service list of Species of Conservation Concern is wholly inadequate. It contains just one animal, two birds and eight plants out of approximately 170 species listed by the Montana Natural Heritage Program that are documented to occur in Missoula County and the Lolo National Forest area. There are another 62 species listed as sensitive by the Regional Forester but most of these are not on the Lolo Draft SCC list either.
  • The Forest Service needs to add another 25 species to a list of Focal or Management Indicator Species including currently listed threatened, endangered and candidate species. Species meriting Focal/MIS status include grizzly bear, elk, wolverine, lynx, fisher, black-backed woodpecker, bull trout and westslope cutthroat.
  • Unique ecological systems including whitebark pine, mychorrizal fungi, old growth forests, fens and bogs and severely burned forest areas need special monitoring and protection. The current Lolo NF Plan only calls for 8% of the forest to be old growth.

The Forest Service will soon finalize its Assessment and release a new document titled “Preliminary Need to Change” that will detail what the agency plans to include for the new revised forest plan, also called the “proposed action,” which will be part of a scoping notice made available to the public for comment in the coming months. 

Rattlesnake Creek, Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by Erik Molvar, WildEarth Guardians.


WildEarth Guardians is a conservation nonprofit whose mission is to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Guardians has offices in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, and over 189,000 members and supporters worldwide.

Other Contact
Patty Ames, President, Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, 415-535-3440; lunaswan415@gmail.com , Patrick Kelly, Montana & Washington Director, Western Watersheds Project, 208-576-4314, patrick@westernwatersheds.org