by Kyla Maki
On August 31, 2015, the Montana State Land Board unanimously approved a legal settlement between several environmental organizations, including MEIC, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The agreement will preserve critical habitat protections for grizzly bears on State lands in northwestern Montana near Glacier National Park. Following the Land Board’s approval, U.S. district court judge Donald Molloy also approved the settlement.
In 2014, Molloy ruled in favor of Friends of the Wild Swan, MEIC, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on their claim that FWS violated the U.S. Endangered Species Act when it approved the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s 50- year Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
The HCP proposed eliminating grizzly bear “security core” critical habitat from protection and would have expanded logging and road construction on over 36,000 acres in key State forests that are integral to the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem for grizzly bears.
The settlement restricts logging and prohibits permanent road construction in seven different zones covering 22,000 acres in the Coal Creek and Stillwater State Forests. The protected acres include avalanche chutes and riparian areas that are important habitat for grizzly bears, lynx, and wolverines. The modified HCP, including the expanded grizzly bear protections, will be in place for the next 47 years. MEIC has been working to improve the HCP since it was first being drafted in 2007.