The pact worked out last year between Plum Creek Timber Co. in Montana's Swan Valley and some federal and state agencies looked like a good deal for both bears and loggers.
Then this May, the Sierra Club Legal
Defense Fund served notice it will file suit to negate the
agreement. What's changed is Plum Creek's announcement that it
might sell some of its land in the area to
The idea was to protect four
corridors of grizzly habitat linking the Bob Marshall Wilderness to
the Mission Mountain Wilderness. Only about 10 bears survive in the
Missions, and biologists say they must be able to intermingle with
the Bob Marshall bears to avoid extinction. The corridors were
chosen because bears need to cross the valley without running into
too many humans.
The pact also calls for
coordinating timber harvests between the Forest Service and Plum
Creek, reducing road access, and not logging on 369,299 acres.
Seven 50-square-mile areas would also be closed to human activity
in the valley each year; four others would still be
But opposition groups, including the Swan
View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Alliance for the Wild
Rockies, say any proposed land sales, timber cuts or related road
building violate the Endangered Species Act. They want the pact
replaced by practices based on the best scientific data for grizzly
bears, not the convenience of loggers.
spokeswoman Arlene Montgomery says the plan was flawed from the
beginning. "The agreement doesn't really protect permanent
corridors and doesn't limit road density," she says. "There are no
corridors specifically earmarked as roadless."
The proposed land sales came to light when a
January newspaper article said Plum Creek planned to sell 150,000
acres of its holdings in the state, some of them in the Swan
Valley. Montgomery says, "We suspected there would be sales after
they hired a developer from Seattle to look over their lands."
Housing development in the valley has already blocked many
historical corridors used by the bears.
Harms, assistant field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in Helena, Mont., says his agency did not know of the
proposed sales while negotiating the pact. "Plum Creek says it's
studying four areas in the Swan for potential sales and they
haven't made any decisions," he says. "Until we know the specifics,
we don't know what impact it will have." He insists the compact
still allows the isolated Mission bears to cross into the Bob
Marshall with relatively little danger. No matter what corridors
the grizzlies choose, however, all must cross State Highway
Plum Creek says it remains committed to the
conservation agreement whether any land sales go through or not.
Spokeswoman Kris Backes says only about 2,500 acres is being
considered for sale in the Swan, most of it lake and creek front
property. "All sales will be consistent with the agreement," she
says. "Some of the options would include selling the land to
conservation buyers or making land exchanges."
Plum Creek has good reason to pacify the
environmental group. If the compact is dissolved, resulting
land-use restrictions enacted under the Endangered Species Act
could be more restrictive for the timber
For more information, contact Doug
Honnold at the SCLDF office in Bozeman, Mont., 406/586-9699; Jerry
Sorensen at Plum Creek Timber Co. in Columbia Falls, Mont.,
406/892-6479; or Keith Hammer at Swan Valley Coalition,
Mark Matthews reports