MISSOULA — A 50-year permit for logging and development on Montana state forests faces a federal lawsuit from environmentalists who say the state won’t do enough to protect threatened grizzly bears or bull trout.
The Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Environmental Information Center and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula’s U.S. District Court on Monday.
They argued the federal agency didn’t look closely enough at the state’s plan for managing more than half a million acres in western Montana.
“This new plan for state lands threatens miles of new roads, narrow logging stream buffers and gravel mines in riparian areas that kill bull trout,” Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan said in an email. “This is a habitat destruction plan, not a habitat conservation plan.”
The challenge involves 548,500 acres of state land, mainly in the Swan River, Stillwater and Coal Creek state forests in northwest Montana. The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation manages those lands and directs logging operations there. FWS oversees the state’s compliance with federal Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears and bull trout there.
“They get rid of the idea of undevelopable core habitat for grizzly bears, and replace it with a sort of rest-and-rotation plan,” Earthjustice attorney Tim Presso said Monday. “The idea is to log an area, move to the next area and say the grizzlies can use the area just logged. But that’s not how they use the landscape. They can’t just pick up and move over the hillside to greener pastures.”
The road-building components of the state plan are also inadequate for keeping sediment out of bull trout spawning streams, Presso said. Bull trout grow to adult size in rivers and lakes, but return to small mountain streams to lay their eggs.
Presso said the environmental organizations want FWS to revoke its 50-year permit and ask Montana officials to revise their development and harvest plans. The plans need to ensure they “are not likely to jeopardize” listed species’ survival “to the maximum extent possible.” Presso said the Montana plan doesn’t come close to that standard.
Officials at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached for comment Monday.