The 2021 South Yaak Fire scorched portions of Montana’s Kootenai National Forest, underscoring the need for proactive and preventative active forest management to reduce future risks to local forests, nearby communities, indigenous resources, wildlife habitat, water resources and other values. The U.S. Forest Service responded by developing the Black Ram project, a carefully and responsibly-designed effort to improve the health and resiliency of these public lands for the future.
Because of the many diverse benefits that Black Ram will provide, the project is supported by the Kootenai (Ktunaxa) Tribe, Lincoln County, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and other community leaders. However, this month a pair of anti-forestry groups sued the Forest Service, claiming the project fails to protect Grizzly bears.
Both the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have found that Black Ram would have no significant negative impact on wildlife species, including Grizzly bears. In fact, the project is designed to protect and improve habitat and forage conditions for a range of species.
Through the use of science-based forestry tools such as prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, hand thinning and stream restoration, Black Ram will improve big game winter range conditions, promote huckleberry growth to provide nourishment to the estimated 60 Grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak zone, and improve aquatic habitat. It will also provide trail and other recreational improvements to allow more of us to enjoy our public lands and wildlife.
Last year, we released a video highlighting an innovative project on nearby private land aimed at thinning fire-prone forests, while providing a travel corridor for grizzlies moving up and down the local valley. This approach shows it’s possible to meet the needs of this species while protecting our communities and forests from devastating fires.
Some believe “hands off” forest management is the only solution to protecting and restoring vulnerable wildlife species. Many species benefit from disturbance and require young forests and other early successional habitats for cover and food. As timber harvesting has declined on federal lands, so too has the young- and mixed-aged forest habitat that many animals need.
In northern states like Minnesota, there are also concerns about the future for moose populations. A reduction in logging on the Superior National Forest has left forest stands that are too old for moose to thrive. That’s why a new moose collaborative has been formed to develop large-scale habitat projects, spanning at least three areas of 10,000-50,000 contiguous acres, 15-75 square miles each to support the species.
Forest management has been key to the recovery of species. Recently, it was credited with helping to increase bobcat populations in Pennsylvania’s forests after years of decline.
In the west, years of unnaturally severe wildfires have degraded forage and roosting habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. Active forest management to reduce severe fires could aid the northern spotted owl, though unfortunately the federal government continues to double-down on restricting timber harvesting and other management activities on forests they manage.
Anti-forestry efforts to derail timber harvesting and other management activities too often come at the expense of both people and wildlife. Yet science continues to demonstrate that we can protect our forests and communities while restoring and enhancing conditions for bears, bobcats, moose, bunnies and many other wildlife.