KALISPELL - Four conservation groups contend road management portions of the Moose Post-Fire Project fail to meet the Flathead National Forest's own standards and they plan to sue to force the issue.
The Endangered Species Act requires at least 60 days advance notice of a lawsuit in order to give the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a final chance to resolve the legal issues out of court.
The Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads announced on Monday they don't intend to challenge the salvage logging already under way in the Big Creek area. Instead, their suit will contend the Forest Service has not complied with forest plan standards related to the management of roads and effects on threatened grizzly bears, lynx and bull trout.
Big Creek, a bull trout spawning stream that runs through the area burned over in the 2001 Moose fire, has been listed by the state as "impaired" due to logging and road building since 1992.
Big Creek is also listed by the Flathead National Forest as "functioning at unacceptable risk" and has yet to meet the forest's road density requirements for wildlife, particularly grizzly bears.
The groups argued in administrative appeals that the Flathead Forest is reneging on commitments to restore wildlife security and watershed health. They specifically objected to plans to reopen a road previously closed for wildlife security.
The groups' appeals were rejected by the Forest Service on March 3.
Flathead Forest officials have conceded that reopening a portion of a road on the north side of Big Mountain and leaving 10 culverts in decommissioned roads will first require relaxing forest plan standards for the protection of bull trout, grizzly bears and other wildlife. The Forest Service said it intended to leave the culverts in place largely to accommodate continued use of snowmobiling routes.
"The Flathead is reneging on its promises," said Keith Hammer, chairman of the Swan View Coalition.
Bethanie Walder of Missoula, director of the Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, said compliance with forest plan standards would make litigation unnecessary. "We wouldn't need to resort to a lawsuit if the forest plan was being followed."