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Why This Road Fight is Critical for Grizzlies, Bull Trout, and More

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Earthjustice regularly fights road-building projects in wild areas. A new lawsuit filed Tuesday offers a good example of why.

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing new roads in Montana’s Flathead National Forest that would harm animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. The roads would open the way for logging, displace grizzly bears, and harm bull trout in key habitat. With legal representation from Earthjustice, the groups Friends of the Wild Swan and Swan View Coalition are challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of road management rules that abandoned much-needed safeguards for these species.

The fight against roads in Flathead National Forest reflects a broader battle to protect species biodiversity. Earth is facing a loss of species so extensive that it threatens to collapse entire ecosystems, and fights to preserve wild spaces have much larger ramifications.

What the lawsuit says

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion greenlighting a new forest management plan in 2018 failed to consider the plan’s full impact on federally protected grizzly bears and bull trout.
  • Grizzly bears avoid roads — even unused roads — which means that roads can displace grizzlies from their natural habitat. In addition, the Flathead Forest’s new road closure requirements fail to prevent motorized trespass, which further displaces grizzly bears.
  • Road construction threatens bull trout and other fish by delivering harmful sediment to their streams, which can decrease the survival rate of eggs and embryos and raise water temperatures.

What happens next

  • A favorable court ruling could effectively pause or cancel new road construction entirely by invalidating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the Flathead Forest Plan’s road-management direction.

The bigger fight to protect species

  • Roadbuilding, clear cutting of forest, damming of rivers, mining, drilling, and real estate development all threat massive swaths of natural habitats for plants and animals.
  • Habitat loss is the biggest driver of the mass extinction crisis. Scientists are warning that we may be facing the loss of nearly 40% of all species by the end of this century.
  • In the United States, the government — which represents the interests of all people, not simply developers — manages about 40% of all land, offering an opportunity to protect thousands of species including 300 that are officially endangered.

Earthjustice will continue to hold the U.S. government accountable to its duty to protect endangered species as part of our work to halt the mass extinction of species.

Grizzly Bear in Glacier National Park
A Northern Continental Divide grizzly bear. (National Park Service)