Federal Officials, Stop, Look, Listen
The U.S. Forest Service traditionally has used road closures to protect endangered animals such as the grizzly.
But that approach doesn’t work completely.
The closures can’t stop a nut on foot or motorbike from killing one of these majestic beasts.
Some argue that road closures create such ill will among displaced loggers and miners that the grizzlies, caribou and elk responsible are more in danger.
If possible, USFS officials should seek solutions to this complex animal protection problem, other than simply padlocking the forest. The forest industry, for example, has an intriguing counterproposal for protecting Priest Lake grizzlies.
The proposed Forest Service plan is harsh: permanently closing 125 miles of roads in the 85,000-acre grizzly bear habitat. Such closures would hurt local economies, schools and roads that depend on timber harvests in Bonner and Boundary counties and eastern Washington.
About 10 million to 20 million board feet of lumber annually would be lost.
Industry representatives agree with USFS officials that better education for forest users about bear safety is needed as well as more conservation officers, particularly during the fall hunting season. Eight grizzlies have been killed in the Selkirk management area in the past decade - most during hunting season.
Timber companies are willing to put their money where their mouth is. They have offered to help fund additional officers and gates for temporary road closures.
In exchange, the industry wants most roads left open so it can reap a greater harvest. Gates, to be closed during the spring when grizzlies most often are present, would be installed on roads leading into prime feeding areas and travel corridors.
Priest Lake ranger Kent Dunstan believes the only real way to secure the area for grizzlies is to close roads.
But Seth Diamond, a wildlife biologist from Montana who now works with the Intermountain Forest Industry Association, says that concept is outdated, a bureaucratic knee-jerk approach designed to please USFS higher-ups.
If experts disagree, how are we to know who’s right?
One thing is certain. This battle is taking place in the middle of “wise-use” country, where people are understandably upset about playing second fiddle to animals. The Boundary County commission filed and lost a constitutionally flawed lawsuit claiming jurisdiction over federal roads and land.
The federal government should be a good neighbor and listen to local concerns when it can. That process includes keeping an open mind when a good suggestion comes along.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board