A plan to build a surveillance road two miles from the Canadian border has drawn objections from environmental groups concerned it cuts through grizzly bear habitat and from motorized users who wanted more access.
The Idaho Panhandle National Forest issued a draft record of decision on the Bog Creek Road Project on Friday. It would reconstruct about six miles of forest road near the border with Washington in the Priest River area. The new road would be limited to Customs and Border Patrol agency use.
“I believe it best balances the need for border security in a manner compatible with grizzly bear recovery,” Supervisor Jeanne Higgins wrote. “Although there was strong desire raised in public comments to have greater motorized public access, those desires had to be balanced with the needs for grizzly bear recovery in this decision.”
However, Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Andrea Santarsiere argued it would violate the Endangered Species act and the National Environmental Policy Act by ruining forest areas needed by grizzlies, wolverines, bull trout and other sensitive species.
“(President Donald) Trump’s clearly not satisfied with just destroying our southern borderlands,” Santarsiere wrote in an email. “This totally unnecessary new road will ruin habitat for grizzlies and other wildlife in this pristine area in northern Idaho. The Selkirks are a beautiful, wild mountain range, and this road will be devastating.”
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The overgrown nature of the road made it excellent grizzly habitat, according to the Forest Service record of decision. Opening it would require offsets in other areas by closing existing roads. The area currently has about 34 miles of open road and 97 miles of seasonally restricted use. At the moment, Bog Creek Road is considered too overgrown for even hiking or mountain biking.
The plan would allow nonmotorized use on the Bog Creek Road and completely close 26 miles of seasonally restricted roads to all motorized use except snowmobiles. Private mining and livestock grazing would still be allowed under special use permits.
Higgins said that Customs and Border Patrol agents needed the road to “prevent illegal activities before perpetrators can reach areas where they can blend into legitimate activities and elude apprehension.” That includes smuggling firearms, bulk cash, human trafficking and illegal immigration. But the biggest threat mentioned was the bi-directional flow of illegal drugs.
The road was needed also for “potential future installation and maintenance of technological assets designed to detect incursions into the United States.” Adding such gear might reduce the need to patrol the area, Higgins added.
The Selkirk Grizzly Recovery Area is one of six set up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the grizzly was declared a threatened species in 1975. About 50 grizzlies live there today, although the area is assumed capable of supporting about 125 bears.