Local group files suit against USFS on behalf of grizzlies

Submitted by

Jane Jacoby


On August 23 the Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC) filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service concerning the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) on behalf of the Yaak Valley’s last 25 grizzly bears, a threatened/endangered species that is failing to recover in the Yaak region. The suit also seeks to protect local access in the Yaak Valley by assessing the full effects of the PNT’s current location. This is the group’s first litigation in its 22-year history.

YVFC cites the concentrated impact of a high-volume through-hiker trail known as the PNT through designated core grizzly habitat in the Yaak as the reason for this suit.

“Once the trail receives a certain number of visitors per year – as few as 200 – it becomes classified as a road, meaning other roads in the area will need to be closed to use,” said YVFC board chair Rick Bass. “This will affect timber as well as local users. The current location is pretty much a giant train wreck.”

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Continental Divide Trail, both of which conjoin with the existing route of the PNT, receive thousands of hikers each year. Through-hiker use of the PCT has spiked over 700% in the last eight years.

“The current route’s not fair to hikers or bears,” Bass said. “Hikers want to do the right thing by bears. We support a re-route that’s good for hikers, good for bears, good for Montana.”

The PNT – over 1200 miles between Glacier National Park and the Pacific Ocean – was first proposed by trail developer Ron Strickland and a Washington-based hiker’s club, the Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA), back in the 1970s. For 32 years, Congress rejected the proposal, due to a feasibility study that showed the trail would be too expensive and would threaten Yaak grizzlies. In 2009, Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Norm Dicks attached a single paragraph to a must-pass Omnibus Bill that authorized the trail. Paired with the enabling legislation was a requirement that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) complete a Comprehensive Management Plan within two years. No plan was ever conducted, and as such, the USFS and the trail itself are more than eight years out of compliance.

In addition to directing through-hikers into the middle of designated core grizzly habitat at the time of year it’s most utilized by mother bears with young, the ill-examined existing route also authorizes hikers to hike down U.S. Highway 37 and, in the upper Yaak, disrupts timber sales due to the absence of a Comprehensive Plan.

The existing route also has led to clashes over late-night searches of through-hikers by Border Patrol agents.

Working with local businesses in Libby and Troy, however, the YVFC is supporting a positive solution in the form of a path south of the Kootenai River. This route gives hikers the option of deprovisioning in the trail towns of Libby and Troy.

This represents a section of an alternative championed by the late Dr. Chuck Jonkel of Missoula, back in the 1980s, who submitted a report to Congress on behalf of Yaak grizzlies.

The Yaak Valley Forest Council is a positive and practical community organization working to ensure this unique ecosystem, and our communities who rely upon it, are healthy and resilient.

For more information, please contact Yaak Valley Forest Council through Robyn King at robyn@yaakvalley.org, or call 295-4936, or (406) 249-5694.

Special CWD hunting licenses sell out in just two hours

Submitted by Dillon



Hunters quickly swooped up the 600 licenses that went on sale the morning of Aug. 19 as part of the Libby Special CWD Hunt.

At 8 a.m., the antlerless white-tailed deer B licenses were available to purchase over the counter at a dozen locations in northwest Montana, including throughout Lincoln County. By 9:50 a.m., barely 60 remained. At 10 a.m., any remaining licenses became available to purchase online and at all license providers, and by 10:13 a.m., they were sold out. Each hunter was able to purchase up to two licenses.

The licenses are only eligible inside the new Libby CWD Management Zone (see attached map), which encompasses an approximately 10-mile radius around Libby and includes portions of Hunting Districts 100, 103, and 104. The licenses are only eligible during the archery and general hunting seasons and follow the same regulations for dates, weapon restrictions, and access.

The special licenses are in response to the detection of chronic wasting disease in the Libby area. Following the guidelines of Montana’s CWD Management Plan, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is holding the hunt to help biologists determine the prevalence and distribution of CWD in the area and to reduce its spread.

CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose. There is no known transmission of CWD to humans or other animals, including pets or livestock. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that hunters harvesting a deer, elk, or moose from an area where CWD is known to be present have their animal tested for CWD prior to consuming the meat, and to not consume the meat if the animal tests positive.

All deer, elk and moose harvested within the Libby CWD Management Zone, including any harvested with a Libby Special CWD Hunt B license and any harvested with any other type of license, must be checked and sampled within 3 days of harvest. Animals can be checked at either the new Libby Special CWD Hunt Sampling Station (Montana Department of Transportation shop on US Hwy 2, mile marker 35) or the Canoe Gulch Check Station. Hunters who quarter or bone out their animal in the field must bring the head for sampling.

Before Oct. 26, hunters who successfully harvest an animal are required to bring the head to the FWP Libby Office, 385 Fish Hatchery Rd. A collection site will be set up for hunters to self-report and submit the head for testing.

During general big game season (Oct. 26 to Dec. 1), the Libby Special CWD Hunt Sampling Station will be open every day from 11 a.m. – 1½ hours after sunset. Hunters are only required to stop at the Sampling Station if they harvested an animal. The Canoe Gulch Check Station will be open weekends from 11 a.m. – 1½ hours after sunset during the general season and all hunters, with or without game, passing the check station must stop.

Hunters will be required to document the exact location of the kill. Animals will be tagged with a unique identification number. Hunters can use that identification number to look up test results on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov/CWD. Test results are usually available within roughly three weeks. Hunters who harvest an animal that tests positive for CWD may receive a replacement 2019 license.

To reduce the spread of CWD, whole carcasses, whole heads or spinal columns cannot be taken out of the Libby CWD Management Zone unless the animal has tested negative for CWD. Hunters are strongly encouraged to dispose of hides, bones and trimmings at approved landfills such as the such as the Lincoln County Landfill. If the carcass is processed within the CWD Management Zone, any brain and spinal parts must be discarded in the Lincoln County Landfill.

For more information about CWD in Montana, visit fwp.mt.gov/cwd.