Montana’s federal district court approved and adopted a settlement agreement today between conservationists and state officials that ensures long-term protection for more than 22,000 acres of important grizzly bear habitat on state forest lands near Whitefish, Montana.
The settlement represents an agreement between the conservation groups Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Environmental Information Center, and Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by Earthjustice, with officials from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (“DNRC”) concerning management of grizzly bear habitat on the 90,500-acre Stillwater and Coal Creek state forests in northwest Montana. The settlement resolves a lawsuit that the conservation groups filed in March 2013 to challenge a government proposal to reduce grizzly bear habitat protections on the state forest lands.
Under the settlement, DNRC will designate seven grizzly bear security zones encompassing 22,007 acres within which:
- Motorized activities will be prohibited during spring, summer, and fall periods when grizzlies are actively using the landscape;
- No permanent road construction will be allowed; and
- Any temporary roads must be reclaimed to prevent use by vehicles, including off-road vehicles.
“This agreement ensures protection for the last, best grizzly bear habitat remaining on state lands in Montana,” said Earthjustice Attorney Timothy Preso, who represented the groups in negotiating the agreement.
“The agreement promises grizzly conservation for decades,” added Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Even if the area’s grizzlies are someday removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act, these protective measures will endure because they will be incorporated into the conservation strategy for long-term grizzly management.”
“The protected lands provide connectivity to neighboring national forest lands to maintain an unbroken habitat link for bears that move out from Glacier National Park,” said Kyla Maki of the Montana Environmental Information Center.
Matt Skoglund of the Natural Resources Defense Council added, “Under this agreement, the protected grizzly bear security zones include important habitat areas such as avalanche chutes where grizzly bears forage for the natural foods they need to survive. Multiple generations of grizzlies will benefit from being able to utilize these habitat areas without disturbance.”
View the settlement agreement and the Court’s order.