MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) - Environmentalists say the U.S. Forest Service is paving the way to grizzly bear deaths by opening one of America's five remaining grizzly bear habitats to road construction and logging. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies says the Forest Service's approval of three new projects will hurt the 45 grizzlies that remain in the region.
Grizzly bears produce small litters at older ages than other bears; they are "hard to grow, but easy to kill" and have one of "the slowest reproductive rates of North American mammals," according to the federal complaint.
A single grizzly bear's rang may cover hundreds of square miles. And the Alliance says that 69 percent of grizzly bear deaths are caused by humans. It adds that roads "literally pave the way for these mortalities" by giving humans access to the bears.
The affected areas, in the Kootenai National Forest, are part of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem in northwestern Montana and northern Idaho.
The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population is estimated to be 45. Yet the Forest Service approved three road-building and logging projects: the Grizzly Vegetation and Transportation Management Project, the Miller West Fisher Project, and the Little Beaver Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project.
These projects authorize construction of more than 14 miles of new roads, reconstruction of 2.4 miles of roads, temporary reopening of 5 miles of closed roads and permanent reopening of 3.5 miles of roads.
The projects will open up 3,988 acres of the endangered grizzly bears' habitat to commercial logging. The Alliance disputes the Forest Service's conclusion that the projects will not hurt the grizzly bears.
Grizzlies were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 because of land development, increased human access to habitat ranchers' bent to kill them to protect livestock that graze on National Forest lands.
The Alliance says the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the National Forest Management Act. It seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction and costs.
It is represented by Rebecca Smith with the Public Interest Defense Center of Missoula.
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