A challenge to the Flathead National Forest Plan by several environmental groups was heard on Thursday before Federal Judge Donald Molloy in the U.S. District Court in Missoula.

Marla Fox, staff attorney for Wild Earth Guardians explained the reason for the court challenge.

“The forest has been operating on a 1986 plan with amendments and then they revised that plan in 2018,” said Fox. “This plan will really set the blueprint for the forest for if not many decades, then more than 15 years at least.”

Fox further detailed her organization’s opposition to the plan.

“The challenge was specifically to the road density plan components and some of the winter motorized travel aspects of the plan,” she said. “Very specific aspects of the plan that's much broader and covers many, many things, but we were challenging those aspects because of the impacts to grizzly bears and bull trout.”

Fox said their objections stem from the fact that in their view, the road plans were not as stringent going forward as they had been in the past.

“One of the big concerns is that the Forest Service made a policy decision to adopt road conditions as of 2011, because the grizzly bear, at least in the northern Continental Divide ecosystem, seems to be on a decent trajectory,” she said. “However, we are concerned because the reason that it was doing so well is the road plan components that got the grizzly bear to that point. Where these prior more stringent, scientifically supported road standards that are more protective, to have less road building on the forest.”

Fox would not speculate on Judge Molloy’s upcoming decision, but noted that he paid close attention to their arguments and their concerns about the grizzly bear habitat.

“It was really good to see that Judge Molloy was asking probing questions,” she said. “He was really concerned about the remedy, what might happen if he were to rule a certain way, which I take as a decent indication that he's thinking about the implications of his decision, both on the species and also on these logging projects that are slated for the Flathead, some of which are already underway.”

Fox said she expects a decision by Judge Molloy within the next few weeks.

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