Court Ruling Recognizes Roads Harm Grizzly Bears in Flathead National Forest


Conservation groups secure another win for grizzly bears and bull trout


Perry Wheeler, Earthjustice, (202) 792-6211,

A Montana District Court ruling today recognizes that grizzly bears are indeed impacted by existing roadways that do not receive motorized use, which the agencies failed to consider when allowing increased roadbuilding in the Flathead National Forest. Grizzly bears have learned to avoid roads — even closed roads — and are often displaced from habitat that features them. Today’s ruling builds upon a favorable decision for conservation groups in March, which found that the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) failed to lawfully examine the impacts to grizzly bears and bull trout from motorized trespass on closed roads.

Nevertheless, the court’s ruling did not immediately stop roadbuilding projects in the Flathead.

“We are pleased to see the courts once again confirm that, as long as roads exist on the landscape, whether open or closed to motorized use, they are a threat to grizzly bears and bull trout,” said Keith Hammer, chair of Swan View Coalition. “The key is to quit building more logging roads. A truly sustainable logging program would not require ever more roads into ever more pristine forests.”

“Once again the court found that roads harm wildlife — particularly grizzly bears and bull trout,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “The Flathead needs to make a good faith effort to prioritize wildlife over road construction rather than continue to degrade their habitat.”

In 2019, conservation groups first challenged the 2018 revised Flathead National Forest Plan, the accompanying Environmental Impact Statement, and the FWS biological opinion in the U.S. District Court in Montana. The court ruled that the agencies’ analysis of impacts to grizzly bears and bull trout violated the Endangered Species Act, particularly in its arbitrary abandonment of the prior forest plan amendment the agencies credited with conserving the species. In response to the 2019 challenge, FWS made a series of minor but inadequate revisions to its biological opinion, which led conservation groups to sue again in 2022.

“Judge after judge has found that federal agencies illegally greenlit roadbuilding in the Flathead National Forest without properly examining the impacts to grizzly bears and bull trout,” said Benjamin Scrimshaw, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies Office. “We are thankful that today’s decision further recognizes the harm to these species but are disappointed that roadbuilding may continue while the agencies go back to the drawing board.”

Earthjustice represents Friends of the Wild Swan and Swan View Coalition in the lawsuit.

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park.
Grizzly bear near Swan Lake Flats in Yellowstone National Park. (Jim Peaco / National Park Service)

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