Protect Grizzly Bear Habitat on Our National Forests
The Forest Service (FS) manages the lion share of grizzly bear habitat, putatively on behalf of all Americans. Unlike the Park Service, the FS is required by law to manage for “multiple uses,” meaning energy development, logging, grazing, wilderness, and recreation of all sorts. But unfortunately, the agency has been captured by the logging industry it was set up to regulate – and now increasingly by mountain bikers and users of off-road vehicles. The agency’s culture of exploiting forests contributes to a schizophrenic approach to grizzly bear management. And too often, the FWS gives the agency a green light to destroy habitat, precipitating litigation by conservation groups.
More positively, on forests that have long been occupied by grizzlies, managers have implemented policies to keep human attractants away from grizzlies, much as the parks have done. Even so, food storage orders have not been uniformly applied in areas occupied by grizzlies, which sets the stage for on-going human-bear conflicts. The agency is also extremely short staffed, and law enforcement is spotty, as exemplified by a situation on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest where a single officer covers well over one-million acres.
The Problem of Roads
Roads and logging on National Forests have been enormously controversial as the Forest Service churns out decision after decision authorizing construction of more roads and projects to log the last secure refuges of grizzly bears, even on forests such as the Kootenai where grizzlies are acutely threatened. Roads harm bears by fragmenting habitat and facilitating access by poachers. Although the Forest Service has put in place standards to limit the number and density of roads -- some better, some worse -- the agency continually seeks to weaken these standards. Perhaps surprisingly, this is still true under the Biden administration. Harmful logging projects are being promoted on the Kootenai, Nez Perce-Clearwater, Custer-Gallatin and other forests.
The Problem of Cows
Grazing by livestock on national forests has similarly been problematic for grizzlies. In the wake of losing key native foods, grizzlies have been increasingly seeking out livestock to compensate. Although some ranchers work hard to accommodate grizzlies (see this essay), others do not. Wyoming’s Upper Green River allotments on the Bridger-Teton NF are witness to the greatest concentration of grizzly bear deaths in Greater Yellowstone – almost all because of notoriously anti-carnivore ranchers in the area who see grazing on public lands as a “right” rather than a privilege.
What the Forest Service Should Do
The Forest Service should protect all roadless lands; establish strong limits on road densities elsewhere; put in place food storage policies throughout areas occupied by grizzlies; and increase law enforcement and other field staff.
What You Can Do: Support Conservation Groups Fighting for Grizzly Bear Habitat
We expect to see a deluge of problematic forests plans and timber/roading projects this year, including on the Custer-Gallatin, Nez Perce-Clearwater, Lolo, Flathead, and Kootenai Forests. Because forest issues tend to be very site specific and complex, you will likely be more effective by tying into one of the passionate organizations fighting for our national forests and grizzly bear habitat. They include