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Nez Perce-Clearwater Revised Forest Plan fails wildlife, climate, and the public

May 7, 2024
Adam Rissien, WildEarth Guardians, arissien@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Public Lands, Wildlife   Bull trout, Canada lynx, Chinook Salmon, Gray wolf, Grizzly bear, Wolverine
#ForceForNature, #PressStatement, #Rewilding
MISSOULA, Mont. – Today, a coalition of conservation groups participated in the first of a three day meeting held by the U.S. Forest Service intended to reach a resolution on 275 objections the agency received in response to the highly controversial revised Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Plan, also known as a Land Management Plan. At the meeting, conservationists decried the agency’s failure to offer meaningful changes in response to the unprecedented level of public participation demanding the revised plan better safeguard wildlife and habitat. 

The revised plan, once finalized, will guide management of approximately 4 million acres of public land in north central Idaho for the next 20-30 years. The process to resolve the objections is the final phase of the agency’s process prior to making a final decision on approval of the plan which is slated for later this spring or summer.

Over the last several years, numerous individuals and conservation groups including Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians, Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force and the Sierra Club—along with the Nez Perce Tribe—submitted scientific and policy input to the Forest Service urging the agency to safeguard habitat for endangered and threatened species like grizzly bears, wolverine, chinook salmon and a host of other important plants and animals. Many explained the importance of protecting and expanding old growth ecosystems, and believe the Forest Service relegated conservation to a distant back seat behind resource extraction and other activities that degrade habitat for wildlife that need natural, undisturbed ecological conditions in order to survive.

“Instead of looking to the future, the Forest Service produced an antiquated timber plan that will further imperil the forest for decades to come,” said Jeff Juel, Forest Policy Director with Friends of the Clearwater. “The Revised Plan would more than double the maximum cut produced any year so far this century, and more than quadruple the regular limit on clearcuts to over 200 acres in size.”

“This Revised Plan threatens animals that are sacred and important to the Nimiipuu people, including salmon, grizzlies, and elk,” said Julian Matthews (Nez Perce), Wildlife & Lands Coordinator for the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club and Coordinator of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment. “It’s shameful to see the Forest Service propose actions that would actually take us backward on species recovery efforts that it’s supposed to move forward.” 

The Revised Plan is critically important to ensure and direct grizzly bear recovery in the Northern Rockies for decades to come. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service emphasizes that true recovery of the grizzly population requires a robust population in the Bitterroot Ecosystem, much of it on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. This recovery zone and adjacent areas provide essential habitat and serve as a vital crossroads linking grizzly populations in the Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, and Selkirk/Cabinet Yaak recovery zones. The Revised Forest Plan would be lethal to bears, undermining efforts to recover the Bitterroot grizzly bear population  and compromising their future.

“The Revised Plan short changes grizzly bears in several regards. The timber first approach relegates grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness when the most productive bear habitat is north of US 12 according to several scientific studies,” said Mike Bader, consultant to the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force.

“The Plan opens up grizzly bear connectivity habitat in the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness to snowmobiles in denning habitats and to ATVs the rest of the year,” said Patty Ames, President of the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force. “This cave-in to a small group of special interests is wrong.”

President Biden’s 2022 Earth Day Executive Order 14072 called on the Forest Service to enact policies that will protect mature and old growth forests given they store significant amounts of carbon, provide for increased biodiversity, contribute to watershed integrity and are generally more fire resilient than young forests. Conservationists called foul on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest for ignoring the President’s order by targeting mature and old growth trees for logging. 

“The Revised Plan is a step backwards to a bygone century that failed to recognize mature and old growth forests for their ability to serve as part of a broader climate-crisis solution,” said Adam Rissien, ReWilding Manager with WildEarth Guardians. “The highest and best use of these climate forests is to leave them standing, and to maximize their potential to store carbon.” 

“Instead of protecting the little remaining old growth for wildlife, the Forest Service would remove centuries old trees, claiming they are the wrong species for that site,” said Jeff Juel. “And every apparent logging restriction in the Plan is written with huge loopholes such that all managers would have to do is find a couple of Douglas-fir beetles or diseased trees in old growth to justify the chainsaws and log trucks,” he added.  

“This Plan is in direct contradiction to the Biden administration directives to conserve and restore old growth forests and protect 30% of our lands by 2030—it proposes increased harvest of old growth and greatly reduces recommendations for wilderness land preservation,” said Al Poplawsky, Conservation Chair of the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It should be withdrawn and completely reworked.”

“Protections for all species of special concern are lacking in the revised Forest Plan.  There are no restrictions on access management or protections for mature and old growth forests,” said retired Forest Service biologist Harry Jageman.

Conservationists also objected to the Revised Plan’s expansion of areas that could be available for future snowmobile use, which would come at the expense of imperiled wildlife. Groups noted the Forest Service stripped protections from the Great Burn Recommended Wilderness Area that is essential for the recovery of the North American wolverine that was listed as a threatened species in 2023. 

“Ensuring the Revised Plan actually contributes to wolverine recovery should be more important than meeting the recreational desires of snowmobile interest groups,” said Adam Rissien. “Expanding motorized disturbances in long protected areas will harm wolverine denning habitat and risk their survival in this crucial area.”   

“The Forest Service did a hatchet job on recommending Wilderness, proposing only 17% of the wilderness quality lands in the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests,” said Gary Macfarlane, Board Member of Friends of the Clearwater. “It eliminated previously recommended northern additions to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, eviscerated the Great Burn and Meadow Creek, and omitted remarkable wildlands like Weitas Creek, Rapid River, Cove-Mallard, Pot Mountain, the upper North Fork, and large additions to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness that the Forest Service protected in the old Selway Primitive Area. Further, the Forest Service sees certain areas have high qualities for wilderness but when it comes to recommending those areas for Wilderness, it claims otherwise. In sum, the wilderness review was a shoddy and disingenuous process.”

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho is home for a diverse array of species such as gray wolves, lynx, wolverines, mountain goats, bull trout, Chinook salmon and steelhead. The national forest is also is a linchpin for grizzly bear recovery, providing secure habitat for wandering bruins as they return to the Bitterroot Mountains.


Other Contact
Patty Ames, Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, lunaswan415@gmail.com, Noah Rott, Sierra Club, noah.rott@sierraclub.org , Jeff Juel, Friends of the Clearwater, jeffjuel@wildrockies.org