Compromise On Bear Essentials Timber, Environmental Groups In Rare Accord On Protecting Grizzly
A plan to protect Priest Lake’s grizzly bears will close 103 miles of roads while still appeasing loggers, environmentalists and berry pickers.
“Not everyone got 100 percent of what they were asking for. But, we ended up with a sound decision that everyone likes, and most of all it protects the bear,” said Priest Lake Ranger Kent Dunstan.
The U.S. Forest Service unveiled the plan Tuesday, and it was lauded by the Intermountain Forest Industry Association, lake residents and the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association (SPBA), an environmental watchdog group.
“This may be the first time in modern civilization that the SPBA and the timber industry have ever agreed on an issue,” said Ken Kohli, a spokesman for the Forest Industry Association.
“It’s a compromise that all the participants should and will stand behind. It’s a rare example of how government was willing to turn over responsibility to real citizens and listen to what they had to offer,” Kohli said.
He said he hopes the effort becomes a model for how communities, industry and environmentalists can work together within the Endangered Species Act.
The new plan calls for keeping motorized traffic out of grizzly bear habitat when the bears are active in the spring, fall and summer. Some winter use, including snowmobiling, will be allowed while the bears hibernate.
Education and enforcement are also being emphasized. The Riley Creek Lumber Co. in Priest River has pledged nearly $70,000 over the next three years to help pay the salary for a conservation officer.
“I think they did a great job with the plan. I’m kind of surprised,” said Gordon West, chairman of the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association. “I guess we thought the original plan was going to get changed a lot more because of political pressure” from the timber industry.
Specifically, the plan calls for:
Seasonal closures (from March 15 to Nov. 15) of 103 miles of roads in the KalispellGranite area.
Another 22 miles of roads including Gold Peak Road, North Boulder Road, Boulder Meadow Road and Beaver Creek Road, will be open annually during peak huckleberry picking season from July 1 to Sept. 10.
Some closed roads to be rehabilitated to prevent erosion that could harm water quality and fish habitat.
Cooperative enforcement of road closures that could include a citizen volunteer group.
For months, the Forest Service has tried to complete a plan to secure its 133 square miles of grizzly bear habitat west of Priest Lake. The idea was to reduce the endangered bear’s mortality rate by cutting off contact with humans.
Only two bears regularly use the Priest Lake area now.
About eight bears have been killed over the last 10 years in the Selkirk grizzly bear management unit. Most of those deaths have occurred during hunting season.
Initially, the Forest Service said the best way to protect the bears from man was by closing 125 miles of roads.
But berry pickers, other recreational users and the timber industry feared the plan would lock them off the land.
The Intermountain Forest Industry hired its own wildlife biologist and developed an alternative plan with Priest Lake residents.
Dunstan said the plan had some excellent points and many were incorporated into the final proposal released Tuesday.
“I think Dunstan deserves a lot of praise for the way he’s handled this,” added West.
“He got people to come to the table and really listened to them. The end result is we have a lot more people interested in the grizzly bear. That’s probably the most valuable thing that could have happened.”
MEMO: Cut in The Region
Cut in The Region