Bitterroot National Forest, Montana Bitterroot Front Project


Management Unit 5, South Ward Unit. Photo credit: Jeff Lonn 

Why this forest is special 

The Bitterroot National Forest is one of the nation’s earliest, dating back to the 1800s. Most of the wildlife encountered by Lewis and Clark still live here, perhaps because half the forest is protected as wilderness. As part of the chain of national forests that runs along the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to British Columbia, the Bitterroot provides habitat and wildlife connectivity for an array of mountain wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.  

Bitterroot Front Project

The project will include commercial logging of 54,883 acres, including 13,245 acres identified as roadless. Most of the remaining acres include mature and old-growth forest, identified as roadless in the 1987 forest plan, have not been commercially logged for more than 80 years. To facilitate this and other logging projects, the Forest Service has proposed weakening the standards defining old growth. It also wants to redefine important old-growth attributes, including how much old forest habitat should remain to provide wildlife cover.

Carbon storage and biodiversity

Grizzlies are returning after being extirpated 50 years ago, and the area includes suitable habitat for Canada lynx and wolverines. Mountain streams support westslope cutthroat trout and critical habitat for imperiled bull trout. The project area borders one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48 states and includes two proposed Wild and Scenic rivers. In 1987 the forest plan required stream surveys for potential permanent protection, but the Forest Service has yet to do so. Commercially logging the largest, oldest trees depletes the area of carbon stores and their ongoing sequestration capabilities.

Why these trees should remain standing

The roadless areas of the project area include mostly mature trees and old-growth forest. Logging large, fire-resistant trees and suspending forest plan standards for wildlife habitat undermines Forest Service claims that the project is needed to improve habitat and reduce fire risk. This is a place to be protected, not sold for timber the country doesn’t need.

The future of mature and old-growth trees in Bitterroot National Forest

Much of the Bitterroot National Forest is fragmented with logging roads. Wildlife habitat has been severely degraded by decades of commercial logging. The Forest Service has proposed weakening the standards in its 35-year-old forest plan to slash protections for old-growth from 40-acre patches to just 5-acre patches.

Project status

The Forest Service’s environmental analysis is expected in late 2022. Timing for the agency’s final decision is not yet known.

Local contact: Michele Dieterich, Friends of the Bitterroot, telechele@hotmail.com

The Worth More Standing report spotlights federal forest-management practices that are liquidating mature and old-growth forests and trees every day. It includes 10 examples that are part of a pervasive pattern of federal forest mismanagement that routinely sidesteps science to turn carbon-storing giants into lumber. Learn what actions you can take to protect Climate Forests across the country.