Judge orders FWS to redo assessment of Montana forest’s roads

By Michael Doyle | 07/01/2024 01:39 PM EDT

Flathead National Forest managers relied upon a “flawed” biological opinion that failed to adequately assess how roads affect grizzly bears, a federal judge ruled.

A sow grizzly bear next to a tree.

A sow grizzly bear is spotted near Camas, Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks/AP

A federal judge has directed the Fish and Wildlife Service to do a better assessment of how roads affect grizzly bears in Montana’s Flathead National Forest.

In a significant — but incomplete — victory for environmentalists, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on Friday concluded that the Forest Service’s approval of a management plan had relied upon a “flawed” FWS biological opinion prepared as part of its Endangered Species Act responsibilities. Christensen specifically faulted the federal agency consideration of forest roads’ impacts on the bears’ behavior.

“FWS acknowledges that road avoidance behavior has negative consequences for grizzly bear populations because displacement from important habitats results in lowered survival rates during the non-denning season,” Christensen wrote, adding that the agency nonetheless “fails to explain” some of the implication in how it calculates the extent of forest roads.


FWS on Monday declined to comment on the pending litigation.