Despite a sign, an earth berm, maps, and promises, motorized use of closed road 10561 persists, reducing intended wildlife security!
Swan View Coalition recently released a report based on its 2022 inspection of 303 Forest Service road closure devices in the Flathead National Forest’s Swan Valley Geographic Area. The group found only 53% of the gates, berms and boulders showed no signs of motor vehicle use behind them. When adjusted to account for Forest Service exceptions allowing administrative and logging contractor use behind closures, effectiveness rose to only 68%, far short of the 92% effectiveness claimed by the Flathead NF for 2019-2020.
Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan in 2019 filed a lawsuit over the revised Flathead Forest Plan and Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 biological opinion approving of its effects on threatened grizzly bears and bull trout. On June 24, 2021, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the biological opinion’s “failure to consider the effect of ineffective road closures was arbitrary and capricious” and violated the Endangered Species Act. He cited a 2004 Swan View Coalition road closure study and the Forest Service's own data finding road closures ineffective, ordering FWS to redo its opinion.
FWS issued a revised biological opinion February 16, 2022, relying on the Flathead’s finding its closures were 92% effective, promises of a better road closure monitoring system, and promises that the Forest Service would fix its ineffective closures “as soon as they are able.” The conservation groups filed a new lawsuit against the revised biological opinion in 2022, again arguing it does not adequately contend with the fact that the revised Forest Plan abandoned the prior Plan’s reliance on road reclamation and the removal of culverts to make the closures more effective in protecting grizzly bears and bull trout. Swan View Coalition recently submitted its new road closure report to the District Court as a part of that lawsuit.
The report includes photos showing instances where the Flathead has taken seven years to repair an ineffective closure, even when the likely unlawful killing of a wolverine behind the closure was discovered and reported. Also reported is the fact the Forest Service promised FWS it would continue to monitor closure effectiveness but instead switched to monitoring whether a closure is “functional” in 2021 and 2022. Moreover, the Flathead refused to describe how “functional” compares to “effective” when its inspection data indicates a number of reportedly “functional” closures also show clear evidence of being breached by unauthorized motor vehicles.
“Road reclamation and culvert removals are necessary to protect fish and wildlife,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of Swan View Coalition. “Both agency- and citizen-gathered data show that gates, berms and boulders are not enough to stop motor vehicle trespass and that unmaintained culverts eventually fail and put the road dirt into the trout stream.”
The report is located here.
The U.S. District Court in Missoula has recently ruled against the government's handling of its road closure programs on the Kootenai National Forest and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. (Click on these two links for the Court's Orders, which also provide background on this continuing controversy).
This Missoula Current article by Laura Lundquist also provides more context for our new road closure report.
The Forest Service cannot ask the Krause Basin Collaborative for group/consensus recommendations, only advice from individuals.
This is because the Forest Service is controlling the Collaborative, not the facilitator, and hence cannot ask for agreement or consensus without firstly convening a formal committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
This is to keep federal agencies from manipulating a collaborative, then turning around and claiming any consensus reached was independent of the agency. The FS's own direction on complying with FACA during collaboration states:
1. The FS "may NOT . . . Solicit consensus, agreement, or a common point of view from the public meeting that the agency manages or controls."
2. "Be clear that in public meetings controlled and managed by the agency that the goal of the meeting is to exchange facts or information and listen to opinions. Indicate that the agency cannot ask for agreement or consensus. Keep in mind that the individuals attending a meeting do not constitute a 'team'."
3. "The agency does not control or manage the contractor's [facilitator's] information, the group's membership, or sources of information except to establish by contractual terms what performance or results will fulfill the contract, including any limitations imposed by the agency. The contractor is the only point of contact with the agency."
The FS sought out particpants "commited to building consensus," assembled the Collaborative, and insists on overriding the facilitator and controlling what information it makes available to the Collaborative.
The upshot here is that the FS is refusing to acknowledge that its previous Forest Plan's Amendment 19 promised to close all of the trails in Krause Basin to motorized use and refuses to post those documents on its Krause Basin Collaborative web page. It is even refusing to post the 2017 Biological Opinion on its revised Forest Plan, which uses the same research benchmarks as Amendment 19, meaning that all trails in Krause Basin would need to be closed to motorized use to remove the ongoing harm to grizzly bears, instead promising a new Biological Opinion someday. See this email string for the details on why these documents are important to an informed plan for Krause Basin. Be sure to scroll down to get at the meat of the email string.
Now, the FS is proposing in its 2/16/22 virtual Collaborative meeting to break into small groups to determine "the 1-2 most important recreation issues in Krause Basin," in violation of FACA if the group's and not each individual's most important issues get reported.
In other words, the FS is manipulating the Collaborative to insure participants are not well informed of the FS's past promises to provide adequate wildlife security in Krause Basin and to bar discussion of those promises from the Collaborative.
That is like losing both legs in an auto acccident and having the insurance company say it would rather get a fresh start, can't pay you for your legs because you don't have any, and refuse to let you see the insurance policy that said you would be paid for the loss of your legs!
Participants should insist that their individual recommendations be recorded and respected, not morphed into specious group recommendations/consensus, and that they firstly be provided ALL of the information about the FS's past promises and management of Krause Basin.
This page documents promises made by the Flathead National Forest to close all trails in Krause Basin to motorized use after designating it a Wildlife Management Area and mandating that the trails "not be marked on the ground."
These stand in stark contrast to the Flathead's efforts in its 2018 revised Forest Plan and since to instead designate Krause Basin a Focused Recreation Area, retain motorized use of the trails, mark them on the ground, and permit commercial motorcycle tours on them!
Swan View Coalition's May 12, 2021 Notice of Intent to File Suit in these matters provides a detailed description of these problems, Below are links to the 28 documents cited in the Notice of Intent (or you can click on the Document numbers in the May 12, 2021 NOI, which utilize the same links to access each Document directly). None of these are currently on the Flathead's Krause Basin Collaborative web page.
Document 01, Document 02, Document 03, Document 04, Document 05, Document 06, Document 07, Document 08, Document 09, Document 10, Document 11, Document 12, Document 13, Document 14, Document 15, Document 16, Document 17, Document 18, Document 19, Document 20, Document 21, Document 22, Document 23, Document 24, Document 25, Document 26, Document 27, Document 28.
The revised Flathead Forest Plan pledged to maintain the on-the-ground grizzly bear habitat conditions that existed in 2011, in order to be consistent with the NCDE Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy and plans to remove Endangered Species Act protections from NCDE grizzly bears.
Now the Flathead says it will not maintain those levels of habitat security as it increases human development of bear habitat - and claims it isn't required to do so under its revised (2018) Forest Plan!
Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Independent Wildlife Consultant Brian Peck summarize this about-face in their primary Objection to the Flathead's Hellroaring Basin Improvement's Project.
The Flathead admits the HBIP would reduce grizzly bear habitat security in Hellroaring Basin by constructing two new chairlifts, their service roads, new ski runs, and the thinning of forest hiding cover for glade skiing. The Flathead also admits that two mountain bike trails to be built in Hellroaring Basin, among the 28 miles being constructed under the already approved Taylor Hellroaring Project, will also displace bears from their habitat.
The Flathead nonetheless attempts to make it look like this is consistent with its pledge to maintain the level of 2011 grizzly bear habitat security, a 1995 requirement to maintain bear security in Hellroaring Basin on the south side of Big Mountain as Whitefish Mountain Resort was expanded to the north side of Big Mountain, and the revised Forest Plan’s condition to provide increased grizzly bear security in the Hellroaring watershed. It does so by saying it will maintain its 2011 baseline security parameters, but then intentionally not quantifying the additional displacement of bears and not measuring it against those parameters, making it appear the 2011 baseline is not being degraded.
The Objectors find this same "phony numbers" system is being applied to all projects being implemented under the revised Forest Plan, masking the on-the-ground impacts of scores of miles of new logging road construction, the construction of 80 miles of new mountain bike trails, and ski area developments like those in Hellroaring Basin. Objectors list five ways in which impacts to bears are not being included in, and hence limited by, the 2011 baseline security parameters:
1. Allowing unlimited miles of non-motorized trails to be constructed with no trail density standard - or 2011 Baseline parameter - to limit them.
2. Allowing unlimited miles of non-motorized “high-use” trails to exist in the Secure Core Baseline parameter by redefining the previous Plan's Amendment 19 “Security Core” in order to allow them to go undetected in the revised Plan’s “Secure Core.” “Security Core” did not allow such high-use trails.
3. Allowing an unlimited mileage of roads - by not including roads with the entrance simply rendered “impassable” to motor vehicles in Total Road Density, even though the road will be retained as a road and continue to contribute human impacts to grizzly bear habitat. This was not allowed under Amendment 19, which required that roads had to be reclaimed and no longer function as roads or trails, motorized or non-motorized, to be omitted from TRD.
4. By not including Special Use Permit roads that are on Forest Service land, and often simply closed by gates, in calculations of TRD.
5. By allowing road construction and the relaxing of road closure types to diminish the amount of “security habitat” greater than 500 meters from roads simply because that habitat does not already remain in blocks of at least 2,500 acres. This is essentially a license to further fragment already fragmented habitats and further relegate security habitat to higher elevations rather than allow it to persist in critical lower elevations such as Hellroaring Basin.
Objectors ask for a new Environmental Impact Statement to look at the cumulative impacts of the many projects being implemented under the revised Forest Plan, the degradation of bear habitat and security going unaccounted for, and to reinstate the former Plan's Amendment 19 with modifications to insure that it does not allow impacts to bears to go unaccounted for.
The details of the Flathead's admissions are summarized in Objectors' primary Objection and in the Flathead's Project File Exhibits it references.
Click here for our primary Objection to the Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project.
Click here and scroll down for links to the various Project File Exhibits referenced in our primary Objection.
Click here for our supplemental Objection to the Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project (detailing inconsistencies with the Forest Plan and the National Environmental Policy Act).
Click here for our Objection press release.
Click here for the resulting Missoula Current news article.
Click here for the Flathead's Hellroaring Basin, Taylor Hellroaring, and other project documents.
(updated 7/1/19 and 10/21/19)
Dr. Chris Servheen says he opposes the issuance of Special Use Permits for ultra-marathon trail-running races in bear habitat and wants permits for mountain bike guiding to comply with interagency recommendations for minimizing bear-human conflicts.
His comments were submitted to the Flathead National Forest during a public comment period on several such permits.
Dr. Servheen was Chair of the Board of Review investigating the death of Brad Treat when he slammed into a grizzly bear while mountain biking at high speed on the Flathead NF.
The Board of Review, which included two Flathead NF staff, recommends that people not run or bike fast in bear habitat. The BOR based its recommendations on numerous instances of people and bears being injured or killed due to surprise encounters during running and biking.
Dr. Servheen wrote "Issuing such permits will send the public a very conflicting message about how to recreate in bear habitat and send a bad message about the veracity of agency advice about how to recreate safely where there are bears . . . doing so will contradict years of agency educational efforts."
Flathead Forest Supervisor Chip Weber objected to the recommendations of the BOR at the June 25 meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and in an opinion piece to newspapers. He falsely claims that trail running and fast mountain biking are no more likely to cause a human-bear encounter than walking or hiking.
News accounts and Swan View's response to Weber note that the BOR cites substantial research in support of its findings and recommendations.
Click here to read the Daily Inter Lake article "Bear Expert Opposes Permits for Running Events."
Click here for Dr. Servheen's comments.
Click here for the Board of Review Recommendations.
Click here for MT Dept. of Fish Wildlife and Parks' findings: "Increased speed can increase the likelihood of surprising a bear at close range. Even during planned events with numerous participants, negative encounters including fatalities, can and have occurred."
Click here for MTPR's story on the IGBC meeting.
Click here for the Missoulian article about Supervisor Weber's objections.
Click here for Supervisor Weber's guest opinion.
Click here for Swan View Coalition's letter to editors in response to Weber's objections.
Click here for "When Cyclists Collide with Bears," an excellent summary of bike-bear collisions and the research showing fast travel results in increased risk of surprise encounters between people and bears!
Click here for "Who Owns the Wild: Grizzlies or Humans? The fight to balance recreation with wildlife is coming to a head."
Click here for Swan View's press release expressing disappointment in the approval of the Whitefish Legacy Partners and Foys to Blacktail trail marathon permits and the dangerous precedent they set on the Flathead NF.
Click here for more background on this issue.
Dr. David Mattson questions government claims of grizzly bear recovery in this hour-long video and this Report presenting an alternative vision of robust recovery for grizzly bears in the lower 48 states.
Government spokepeople would have us believe that the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear population continues to grow at a rapid pace, fueling dramatic increases in distribution, and that they know with remarkable precision how many bears are there.
In fact, Dr. Mattson explains, we know very little about the current size and trajectory of this bear population. Moreover, episodes of rapid increase in distribution have more plausibly been driven by changes in habitat and diet than by increases in bear numbers.
Click here for our press advisory that summarizes Dr. Mattson's presentation. It includes a link to the video of his presentation and an annotated, video timestamp index to highlights.
You can also go straight to the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pfIBnZtjTw .
(This post updated 6/20/19 to include the new Report).
Conservation groups wanting better protection for fish and wildlife in the Northern Rockies filed Objections to the revised Flathead Forest Plan and Amendments to four other Forest Plans in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
The plan revision and amendments are intended to pave the way for delisting of threatened grizzly bear in the NCDE, which would remove their Endangered Species Act protection.
The groups launched a letter writing campaign in 2016. This resulted in 98% of the 33,744 comments the Forest Service received on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement calling for protection of all remaining roadless lands as wilderness and continuation of the road decommissioning program that agencies credit with improving grizzly bear security and helping restore critical bull trout watersheds.
The revised Flathead Forest Plan instead abandons its road decommissioning program and recommends for wilderness designation only 30% of the areas it found suitable for wilderness. The Kootenai, Lolo, Lewis and Clark, and Helena Forest Plans would similarly be amended to abandon road removal as a primary means to restore fish and wildlife habitat that has been damaged.
The groups rallied around the principles of the Citizen reVision alternative Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan asked the Forest Service to include in its DEIS. The DEIS included some of these principles in its Alternative C, which it then assigned the highest marks for maintaining water quality and wildlife habitat connectivity. The FEIS and revised Flathead Forest Plan, however, select Alternative B-modified even though it is assigned "the highest risk of impact to aquatic species" and "is likely to adversely affect" already threatened grizzly bear, bull trout, and Canada lynx!
The Objections were due at Forest Service Region One headquarters in Missoula on February 12. The Region now has ten days to "publish a notice of all objections in the applicable newspaper of record and post the notice online." The Region's responses to the Objections are due within 90 days, unless it grants itself extensions.
Below are links to some of the Objections filed by groups supporting the principles of the Citizen reVision:
Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, Wilderness Watch, WildWest Institute, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Rattlesnake, Friends of the Clearwater, Independent Consultant Mike Bader Objection.
Click here for a Missoulian article on the 74 Objections filed.
Click here for Montana Public Radio coverage of the 74 Objections filed.
Click here for a Missoula Independent article on Objections filed.
The 3,000 pages of FEIS, Forest Plan and Forest Plan amendments can be found here.
UPDATE: Swan View Coalition testified on behalf of 15 other groups and organizations at a July 7, 2016 Grizzly Bear Habitat Workshop in Missoula, MT. We submitted more comments in January 2018 when FWS asked for comments, this time on its Draft Supplement to include HBRC in the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.
Click here for our 1/3/18 comments.
Click here for our 1/23/18 comments.
All you need to say is that you want grizzly bear recovery based on the promised security of grizzly bear habitat and key bear foods - and that you want FWS to abandon its current plan to instead reduce grizzly bear security in the face of growing human populations and impacts.
Remember, while the grizzly bear population in the entire Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem was estimated to be 765 bears in 2004 and has hopefully increased by a couple hundred bears since then, the human population of Flathead County alone grew by 1,800 people in 2014 and is estimated to reach 100,000 by 2018!
Click here to read Swan View's testimony or to help fine-tune your email to FWS.
Click here to watch NBC's coverage of the workshop.
Click here to read the Missoulian newspaper article about the workshop.
Click here to watch KPAX coverage of the workshop.
Click here (then scroll down) to view a list of links to the 26 documents attached to Swan View Coalition's testimony.