Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Roads ruling in Flathead Forest lawsuit favors grizzly advocacy groups

Grizzly bear strolling along a road
Grizzly Bear strolling along a road

Excellent summary of the current status of the suit challenging the Flathead Forest’s rules for decommissioning roads . . .

A federal judge in Missoula issued a June 28 order recognizing that logging roads intensify pressure on grizzly bears and can displace them from their habitat even if forest managers have closed the roads to motorized use and deemed them “impassable,” an ineffective standard the agencies employ when approving new roadbuilding for timber projects on the Flathead National Forest.

Barring an appeal from the plaintiffs, the ruling concludes a legal saga that began in April 2019 when two local conservation groups, Friends of the Wild Swan and Swan View Coalition, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Flathead National Forest (FNF) over the road-building provisions in FNF’s revised forest plan. The new ruling by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen acknowledged that grizzly bears have learned to avoid roads — even closed roads — and are often displaced from habitat that features them. The ruling builds upon a favorable decision for conservation groups in March, when a federal magistrate found that the FWS and FNF failed to lawfully examine the impacts to grizzly bears and bull trout from motorized trespass on closed roads.

Although Christensen acknowledged that the ongoing chronic problem of ineffective road closures and unauthorized motorized access can negatively impact grizzly bears, he stopped short of prohibiting approval of any future timber projects under the revised plan as currently written. Instead, Christensen remanded the provisions of the plan that violated the Endangered Species Act back to the agencies for further consideration.

Continue reading . . .

Glacier Park and Flathead Forest restart management planning for Three Forks of the Flathead River — finally

From the official joint press release . . .

Joint Release: New Project Leader Joins the Comprehensive River Management Planning Effort for the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River

North Fork of the Flathead River - ©Mark LaRowe
North Fork of the Flathead River – ©Mark LaRowe

Release Date: 

Kalispell, MT, May 6, 2024 — The Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park are working together to reengage in the Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the three forks of the Flathead River. “We are bringing on a new project leader who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in Wild and Scenic River planning” says Rob Davies, Hungry Horse-Glacier District Ranger. “Our aim is a cohesive interdisciplinary, interagency team with aligned vision, working together on a plan for all the three forks, now and going into the future”. Our new team leader has experience with river management plans from across the nation and joins us from the U.S. Forest Service Washington Office’s Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.

The Flathead National Forest began the planning effort in 2018 and released a proposed action in 2019, which included public scoping and a series of public meetings. While plan development experienced periods of delay in 2020 and again in 2023, the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park continued to analyze public input from the 2019 public engagement efforts and work towards drafting a plan for the next phase of public participation. Continue reading Glacier Park and Flathead Forest restart management planning for Three Forks of the Flathead River — finally

Roads lawsuit brings split decision

Grizzly Bear - Montana FWP
Grizzly Bear – Montana FWP

A more nuanced discussion of the lawsuit over some road provisions in the Flathead Forest Plan . . .

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto March 12 recommended that two local environmental groups partially prevail in their claims against the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over road management on the Flathead National Forest.

The recommendations, if they hold, could drastically alter the way the Forest Service manages closed roads in the future.

Continue reading . . .

Federal court strikes down portions of Flathead National Forest plan

Grizzly bear in early fall - Montana FWP
Grizzly bear in early fall – Montana FWP

Oops! This one almost slipped past me this week . . .

A federal court magistrate has found that the Flathead National Forest has failed to consider the impacts of new road-building projects on grizzly bears and bull trout, saying the United States Forest Service is ignoring science in order to arrive at its approval for the project which has been contested since 2018.

Magistrate Kathleen DeSoto said that, like a previous court decision, the Flathead National Forest ignored roads that had been “decommissioned” but still exist and allow for motorized vehicle travel, which is technically illegal, but the USFS acknowledges happens. In the Forest Service’s 2009 plan, officials called for removing many of those roads, but opted to “decommission” them by blocking them, which severely curbed, but didn’t eliminate their use.

Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan sued the Forest Service, saying that it couldn’t ignore the roads in its calculations and plans, which said that in 2009 the federal agency agreed that any new project could not add to motorized vehicle use in the forest. DeSoto found that even though those roads were decommissioned, they were still usable, and should have been considered and addressed in the plans. Doing that, the citizens’ groups argued, would then have rendered the Forest Service’s plan in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Continue reading . . .

Finally! Pollution in Elk-Kootenai watershed referred to the IJC

Lake Koocanusa - Ryan Fosness (Idaho Water Science Center)
Lake Koocanusa – Ryan Fosness (Idaho Water Science Center)

Here’s some good news to start the week. The Elk-Kootenai watershed cross-border water pollution from Teck Resources’ coal mining operations has finally been referred to the International Joint Commission (IJC). The Flathead Beacon has excellent coverage . . .

Federal governments in Canada and the U.S. have agreed to ask the International Joint Commission (IJC) to study and take steps to mitigate the inflow of mining pollution to the Elk-Kootenai River watershed through a joint reference, signaling a breakthrough in bilateral talks that have stalled for years, even as the company that owns the mines expands its footprint along the border with Montana.

The agreement was announced Monday by tribal and First Nation governments in Montana, Idaho and British Columbia (B.C.) who cheered the development after years of intensifying pressure on the U.S. and Canada. The reference means that an independent governance body representing both nations will convene to craft solutions to address the contaminants spilling into a watershed that crosses the international boundary at Lake Koocanusa and spans traditional Aboriginal territory.

The federal governments of both U.S. and Canada also confirmed the reference on Monday and issued a joint statement from the Ambassador of Canada to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, and the Ambassador of the United States to Canada, David L. Cohen. According to Pierre Cuguen, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada (GAC), both countries “have reached an Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) on next steps to further bilateral cooperation to reduce and mitigate the impacts of water pollution” in the transboundary watershed.

Continue reading . . .

Alert: Ask the EPA to perform a full cleanup of the CFAC Superfund site

Dear friends of the North Fork,

Alongside many Flathead conservation groups, we are asking our supporters and members to please sign the EPA petition to get CFAC and the main stem of the Flathead river cleaned up once and for all! From headwaters to main waters, you can be a part of the bigger, cleaner picture. There’s more work to come, but for now, you can learn more and sign your name to the petition by visiting the Coalition for a Clean CFAC website.

You can also read a short summary of the situation below.

Flannery Freund
NFPA President


Summary written by Peter Metcalf; lightly edited here…

We are reaching out to you about the cleanup of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant Superfund site in hope you may be concerned and willing to help. We are part of a growing group of concerned citizens who are pressing for a complete cleanup of the approximately 1.2 million cubic yards of contaminants that remain on site. It’s a doozy of nasty chemicals, including cyanide, fluoride, arsenic and selenium. The proposed “cleanup” plan would leave all this waste on site where it can potentially leach into nearby drinking water wells or the Flathead river. Rather than restored or redeveloped, the 960-acre site would be mostly off limits to future human uses. For years the local citizens and the elected leaders have consistently asked for the waste to be removed. But CFAC did not analyze this option during the feasibility study. The company simply dismissed it as too costly and too disruptive to local communities to truck the waste and too costly. (They conveniently glossed over the fact that for nearly 20 years they removed toxic waste by the existing rail line to a hazardous waste landfill out of state.

We are at a critical juncture. The EPA is reviewing the proposed plan and expects to issue a decision this spring. We are trying to get the EPA to stop their decision making process and require a full cost-benefit analysis be conducted before issuing a final plan. We are also trying to organize a community visioning process to help determine the future uses of the site. So how can you help?

  1. Please sign the petition to the EPA on our Coalition’s website.
  2. Please share the petition with others. You can do so by forwarding the website link or by passing along the flyer and paper petition to collect signatures (linked below). We need as many signatures as possible.
  3. Contact our elected officials (especially the county commissioners) and ask them to tell the EPA they do not support the proposed waste-in-place plan.

Flyer & petition document links:
Coalition for a Clean CFAC flyer
Petition to the EPA



The heartbeat of wild places

Mountain Lion - US Forest Service
Mountain Lion – US Forest Service

A fascinating article on mountain lions with a North Fork focus and some excellent photos . . .

Populations of big cats are declining globally because of habitat loss and poaching, but mountain lion numbers are increasing. They are the most successful large cats in the Americas and live from the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in South America, north to Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Jim Williams, author, biologist and former regional director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, says Montana has two to four times as many lions as wolves on the landscape. More mountain lions live in Glacier National Park than Yellowstone proper, Williams says, due to the high white-tailed deer population in Glacier, and wolf packs in Yellowstone have displaced mountain lions from the high, open plains to the northern region of the park where deep canyons and steep slopes are prevalent. “There are 4.9 resident adults per 100 square kilometers in Glacier,” he said. “That’s the highest we’ve detected in Montana.”

The story below happened in Glacier, but could have easily occurred in Greater Yellowstone or anywhere carnivores face off in conflict.

Continue reading . . .

Feds deny petition to restore wolf protections in northern Rockies

Gray wolf - John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Gray wolf – John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Federal wildlife managers denied a petition to restore ESA protections to the gray wolf population in the northern Rockies . . .

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Friday denied a listing petition from an alliance of more than 70 conservation groups seeking to restore Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. Although federal wildlife managers framed the decision as following “a path to support a long-term and durable approach to the conservation of gray wolves,” and pledged to adopt a first-of-its-kind National Recovery Plan, the conservation groups said they were considering a legal challenge.

Gray wolves are still listed under the ESA as endangered in 44 states, and are considered threatened in Minnesota; however, in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and portions of eastern Oregon and Washington, the wolves are managed under state jurisdiction, with their respective legislatures passing laws allowing wolf harvests, while setting quotas and regulations to manage the populations.

Although the FWS decision doesn’t change existing policy, it signals the latest turn in a decades-old debate over state and federal management of wolves in the West, as well as how to quantify the species’ recovery following their delisting in places like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Continue reading . . .

Chrisman family completes 310 acre conservation easement on North Fork

Posted to Facebook on February 1, 2024 . . .

Montana Land Reliance (MLR) announces a forested property near Glacier National Park will forever be protected from development. MLR has completed a conservation easement on a 310-acre property north of Polebridge owned by the Chrisman family. Funded by the MLR Jeff Shryer Fund and the Heart of the Rockies Initiative, the easement property is located less than a half mile from Glacier National Park and bordered by Flathead National Forest. The Chrisman property includes a small tributary of the North Fork River and contains a diverse ecosystem with varied upland timber and riparian wetland habitats.

Deer, elk, moose, black and grizzly bear, lynx, gray wolves, wolverine, and bald eagle will forever thrive on the property – including the grizzly pictured here, taken on the family’s game camera. Many thanks to the Chrisman’s and Heart of the Rockies Initiative for partnering with us!

Waste-in-place’ cleanup plan for CFAC Superfund site draws fire from advocacy group

A group of local residents are not happy about plans to handle pollution at the old CFAC Superfund site by treating and storing the toxic waste on-site rather than shipping it elsewhere . . .

A pair of Flathead County citizen advocacy groups have formed a coalition in response to the proposed cleanup plan at the site of the former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC) along the Flathead River, where federal regulators have proposed containing hazardous wastes as part of their final remediation rather than shipping the toxic materials off-site.

The newly formed Coalition for a Clean CFAC is requesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) “take a timeout to fairly re-evaluate the cost benefits of removing, not leaving, the toxic waste at CFAC,” which the EPA declared a Superfund site in 2016.

According to a press release announcing the formation of the new coalition, it represents two existing organizations, Citizens for a Better Flathead and the Columbia Falls-based Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association, as well as a “rapidly growing number of city and county residents throughout the Flathead including a number of former CFAC employees and other local organizations.”

Continue reading . . .