Conservation groups filed suit today in federal district court to stop logging and road construction in some of the last best habitat for beleaguered grizzly bears and woodland caribou in eastern Washington.
The Selkirk Mountains are home to a tiny grizzly population – roughly 40 bears by optimistic estimates – and the last surviving woodland caribou in the lower forty-eight states -approximately 30 animals. The Selkirks are also a refuge for threatened and endangered species such as gray wolves, lynx, and bull trout that have been hard hit by logging, mining, and roadbuilding across the Northwest.
The Forest Service has characterized the Selkirk Ecosystem as being of “national significance” due to its extraordinary wildlife values. Nevertheless, the agency recently approved a request by the Stimson Lumber Company to build several federally subsidized roads on public land in order to access company property within the Colville National Forest.
“This project literally paves the way for thousands of acres of logging and miles of roading in the Selkirk Grizzly Bear and Caribou Recovery Areas,” said Mark Sprengel of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. “These are species at the brink. This project will push them over the edge.”
The Forest Service has a legal obligation to protect threatened and endangered species when it authorizes projects on public lands. The conservation groups’ lawsuit challenges the failure of the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that proposed roadbuilding will not drive threatened and endangered species to extinction.
“The agencies are doing exactly what the Endangered Species Act tells them not to do. They are accommodating Stimson’s needs at the expense of bears,” said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund who is representing the groups.
Parties to the lawsuit are Selkirk Conservation Alliance, Sierra Club, Kettle Range Conservation Group, The Lands Council, Idaho Conservation League, and Pend Oreille Environmental Team.