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Judge Sides With Environmental Groups On Flathead Forest Road Density Rules

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., in 2011.

A federal judge in Missoula has ruled the Flathead National Forest violated the Endangered Species Act by removing a rule that limits road-building in grizzly bear habitat. 

When the Flathead National Forest signed off on its updated management plan in 2018, it removed a rule known as Amendment 19, which limited roadbuilding in grizzly bear habitat. It also required roads to be fully decommissioned so they could no longer be used.

Attorney Tim Preso with Earthjustice represented Friends of the Wild Swan and the Swan View Coalition in their challenge over the rollback of the rule. 

“You can’t both roll back Amendment 19 and assume all the good that Amendment 19 has done is going to continue into the future,” he says.

Judge Donald Molloy agreed with the groups’ argument that a 2017 biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supporting the removal of Amendment 19 violated the Endangered Species Act. Studies have found that roads increase the chances of cars hitting bears, and bears generally avoid roads, meaning they can section off habitat and limit breeding.

Montana Public Radio reached out to the Flathead National Forest for comment but did not hear back by deadline.

Judge Molloy’s ruling does not overturn the forest’s management plan but requires the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to review the removal of the rule from the management plan. Molloy’s decision will also require site-specific review of projects that include road building.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.