Forestry and Roadless Areas
The Yaak Valley Forest Council leads Lincoln County’s community of forest stakeholders, advocating for National Forest management that supports wildlife, old-growth forests, and a healthy Yaak River watershed. For endangered species, we campaign for a climate refuge in the Yaak and the protection of wildlife corridors, roadless areas, and core grizzly bear habitat. For Lincoln County residents, we work for bear-safe communities, the peaceful co-existence of people and wildlife, and responsible outdoor recreation in the Yaak and across the Kootenai National Forest. Since 1997, the Yaak Valley Forest Council has brought over a million dollars into Lincoln County through forest and habitat restoration projects that preserve and protect the wild Yaak.
Our Forest Watch team is the eyes, ears, and voice for conservation on the ground. The Yaak Valley Forest Council follows the U.S. Forest Service’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) steps on each project from scoping to environmental analysis and the draft record of decision. We act to provide input and correct course when a project plan does not take climate change into consideration or provide adequate protection for wildlife and old-growth forests.
The Yaak Valley Forest Council’s years of experience with the pre and post-harvest monitoring of these projects helped create Coalition For Recovery, a local group with a mission to create positive messaging and provide education and outreach opportunities for grizzly bear recovery in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.
The goal of this monitoring program is to bring about forest management in the wild Yaak that sustains the health of our watersheds, wildlife, local communities, and local economies for generations to come.
The Yaak Valley Forest Council works on the 2.2 million-acre Kootenai National Forest, focusing best management practice monitoring activities on the 393 thousand-acre US portion of the Yaak River watershed, a drainage system extending another 113 thousand acres into Canada. Since our program's inception in 1997, the Yaak Valley Forest Council has monitored 23 large project areas totaling more than 1.1 million acres. While much of this acreage overlaps from project-to-project, this vast acreage is a testament to our organization's dedicated field conservation efforts over the intervening decades.
Black Ram Project
In 2019, the Kootenai National Forest proposed a major logging project in the Yaak ecosystem that would commercially log more than 4,000 acres, including:
- clearcutting 2,011 acres (more than 3 square miles), including one clearcut 293 acres in size, about ½ a square mile,
- logging 700 acres of old-growth and mature forest,
- removing 57 million board feet of commercial timber,
- Bulldozing nearly a mile of new and permanent road through old forest and reconstructing or maintaining 90.3 miles of road.
The Kootenai National Forest asserts that the project is needed to “manage the forest stands in the Project Area to maintain or improve their resilience to disturbances such as drought, insect and disease outbreaks, and wildfires.” Yet logging and clearcutting to create more plantations often worsen wildfire risks by leaving slash and broken branches, increasing human access, and removing fire-resistant trees. About 60% of the project area is outside (and downwind of) the “wildland-urban interface,” and miles from homes or other structures.
Black Ram is one of five massive logging projects, covering more than 300,000 acres, stacked on top of one another on the Kootenai National Forest’s western side.
The Forest Service has admitted the 25 or fewer grizzlies left in the relatively isolated Yaak Valley ecosystem, already threatened by unsustainable logging across the Canadian border, are likely to be adversely affected. The project will do so in part by increasing road density standards above thresholds meant to protect bears for up to 10 years. With more roads and disturbance come more opportunities for human-bear conflicts, with often deadly consequences for grizzlies. Bear experts in the U.S. and Canada have raised the alarm about the project.
Old and mature forests, and the soil they nourish and that nourishes them, are champions of carbon storage and could play a key role in buffering against the threat of catastrophic climate change. Logging old forests, as proposed at Black Ram, significantly reduces the rate at which the forest stores carbon. Wildfires, which the Black Ram and similar projects purport to prevent, annually cause less damage to carbon storage than does logging.
Climate and forest ecology experts have criticized the Kootenai National Forest’s analysis of the Black Ram project as verging on climate denial and noted that the project conflicts with President Biden’s call for federal agencies to aggressively tackle the climate crisis.
The Yaak Valley Forest Council’s THRIVE program is designed to research and monitor vegetative response to land management treatments with an aim to create healthier, more resilient grizzly bear and lynx habitat. Identifying which treatments are most effective at promoting ideal vegetative conditions for wildlife persistence will contribute to the recovery of these endangered species in the Kootenai National Forest.