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'Programmatic change'

by The Western News
| November 29, 2011 12:53 PM

'Grizzly Bear' analysis may alter forest access

Calling the just-released Grizzly Bear Access Amendment “a programmatic change,” supervisors of the three national forests say there will be no “on the ground” changes for access to the Kootenai, Idaho Panhandle and Lolo National Forests.

A press release on Friday from KNF Supervisor Paul Bradford’s Libby office announcing the amendment will set standards that will be used to propose and implement changes to motorized access throughout the bear recovery zones on each forest. 

The Grizzly Bear Access Amendment is the completed analysis, and within the report is a decision for Motorized Access Management for the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones.

Changes to motorized access will be accomplished through separate, site specific NEPA analyses, including public comment and consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Full implementation of the standards across the recovery zones is expected to take up to eight years.

Supervisors for each national forest selected Alternative E Updated, which amends the plans of all three forests to set standards for motorized access within the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones.

Although this decision incorporates new standards, no site specific changes will be made without further NEPA analysis, including opportunities for public input.

“We have worked with local communities and incorporated the best available science resulting in an amendment to the Forest Plan. The amendment takes into account the needs of the bears while providing a balance with recreational, economic and administrative needs on our national forests,” said Bradford.

The Grizzly Bear Access Amendment is a programmatic change, meaning no “on the ground changes” are directly authorized by this decision.

The Grizzly Bear Access Amendment sets specific standards for road density and percentage of core habitat for grizzly bears across 30 Bear Management Units (BMUs) within the recovery zones.

This amendment is expected to continue the current downward trend of grizzly bear mortality on national forest system lands within the recovery zones, but could result in approximately 16 to 48 miles of currently open motorized routes being barriered and an additional 18 to 54 miles of open routes being gated once standards are fully implemented.

The decision’s standards are based upon the best available science, public comment and recommendations made by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, an organization that consists of representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey and representatives of the state wildlife agencies of Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.

Development of the Grizzly Bear Access Amendment began with a Settlement Agreement resulting from a lawsuit filed against the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai National Forests for adopting a Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones Access Management Interim Rule Set in 1999 without amending their Forest Plans.

A portion of the Lolo National Forest is also within the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Zone. The Lolo National Forest was not included in this lawsuit. However,  it was determined that it would be appropriate to update that forest plan to provide consistent direction within the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Zone.

An Environmental Impact Statement to update the forest plans was issued in 2002 and a Record of Decision was signed in 2004. The decision was appealed and litigated based on questions related to the adequacy of the science used in the formation of the 2002 EIS.

On Dec. 13, 2006, the District Court of Montana remanded the decision to the forests and ordered the Forest Service to prepare a new environmental analysis. The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) issued in this month are the result of the court order and meet the requirements mandated by the District Court of Montana.

Members of the public may obtain an electronic copy of the FSEIS and ROD for the Grizzly Bear Access Amendment from the Grizzly Bear Access Amendment web page (accessed at http://www.fs.usda.gov/kootenai/landmanagement/planning, and scroll part-way down the page to the link to Forest Plan Amendments for Motorized Access).

The issuance of the Record of Decision represents the completion of this analysis. A 45-day appeal period will begin upon publication of the Notice of Availability.