Dear Friends of the Yaak Grizzly Bears—
The Yaak Valley Forest Council is suing the federal government—specifically, the U.S. Forest Service—for the first time in our 22-year history, and as you might imagine, it’s not cheap.
We need your help to continue this.
We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to protect the Yaak’s last 25 grizzlies—the rarest grizzly subpopulation in Montana, and among the rarest in North America.
The Pacific Northwest Trail is a 1200-mile high-volume through-hiker trail that passes through northwestern Montana’s Yaak Valley, home to those 25 remaining grizzlies, of which only 3-4 may be breeding females with young. For over 30 years, a hiker’s club in Washington state tried to authorize this trail via Congressional legislation; for just as long, Congress and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rejected the proposal, saying it would be too expensive, and that it would be injurious to the grizzlies of the Yaak. The hiker’s club finally succeeded in 2009 in getting a Washington-based delegation (Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Norm Dicks) to attach a single paragraph to a must-pass Omnibus bill that authorized the trail, right through the heart of the Yaak.
Congress did establish a requirement along with the trail’s authorization: that the agency (USFS) complete a management plan for the trail within two years.
This did not happen, and still is not happening.
We can only assume Senator Cantwell and Rep. Dicks had been told there had been science and consultation. There had not.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the U.S. Forest Service, after fighting the proposal so long, immediately accepted it. They chose not to create a management plan. They started a public oversight committee in 2014, but it was disbanded shortly after Trump took office. The YVFC has been trying for five years to work with the U.S. Forest Service and has hit only brick walls in our efforts. The best available science is indisputable—high-volume through hiker trails are not compatible with grizzly recovery—they stress the bears and displace them. It’s also indisputable that the USFS is out of compliance. The current route is enabling access to timber and vegetative management, threatens local access, creates headaches for Border Patrol and hikers, sends hikers down dozens of miles of paved and gravel road, places hikers and female grizzlies with young in the same small alpine meadows at the same time of year, and is proceeding without any science or data on carrying capacity—in short, it’s a train wreck.
Legislation created this train wreck, and legislation is required to fix it. In the meantime, someone has to speak for the Yaak grizzlies: the Forest Service is breaking the law, and at great risk to Yaak bears. Please, write your delegation and urge them to pass immediate legislation re-routing the PNT out of designate core grizzly habitat. And please, help us pay our magnificent attorneys at Ferguson Law Offices in Missoula. We hate that it’s come to this, but we’ve exhausted all other measures and are unwilling to continue kicking this can down the road, exposing hikers and grizzlies to risk we find unacceptable and unnecessary. Five years is too long. We need a solution.
There are wonderful people who work in the Forest Service and in the federal government. But many would agree with us as well that there is a terrible grip on democracy, and that people’s voices, clean water, clean air, and the wild integrity of our public lands and our endangered species are trying to be choked out of existence by the current administration.
We won’t let that happen on our watch, and neither will our attorneys. Thank you for helping accompany us into this new territory that is a regrettable necessity.
YVFC Board of Directors
Caroline Stephens For more information, go to yaakvalley.org , and see quick references below!YVFC PNT Overview YVFC PNT FAQ YVFC Filing Announcement VIDEO: The Yaak's Last Grizzlies - Dr. David Mattson
Special thanks to Brad Orsted for the grizzly photograph!