Grizzly bears and national forest roads get fresh look in Montana

By Michael Doyle | 03/13/2024 01:37 PM EDT

A federal magistrate judge partially sided with environmentalists in a case centered on grizzly bears in the Flathead National Forest.

Grizzly Bear in Denali National Park and Preserve.

A grizzly bear in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Jean-Pierre Lavoie/Wikimedia Commons

A federal magistrate judge on Tuesday found merit in environmentalists’ claims that managers of Montana’s vast Flathead National Forest failed to properly consider the impact of ineffective road closures on grizzly bears.

In a meaningful, but partial, victory for the Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan, Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto determined that the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act with regard to both the grizzly and the threatened bull trout. The finding comes as the Fish and Wildlife Service prepares a much broader decision on whether the grizzly bear still warrants ESA protections at all.

In particular, DeSoto concluded that the Flathead National Forest planners relied on a rewritten, but still flawed, biological opinion from FWS.


“The Revised BiOp failed to adequately consider the impact of ineffective road closures on the 2011 [habitat] baseline and on grizzly bear populations as a whole,” DeSoto wrote, adding that the FWS opinion also “failed to consider” the potential impact of culvert removals on habitat and species.