Old multistory forest slated for phased clearcut. Logging unit 72, Kootenai National Forest. Photo credit: Yaak Valley Forest Council
Why this forest is special
In the farthest corner of Montana in the Kootenai National Forest, straddling the Canadian border, are most of what’s left of the Yaak Valley’s oldest, diverse forests. The Forest Service has bulldozed thousands of miles of road and logged a vast patchwork of clearcuts surrounding these islands of giant old trees. Ancient larch, among the oldest in the world — 600-800 years and still going strong — preside over a rich diversity of old-growth spruce as well as enormous centuries-old cedar, hemlock and subalpine fir. Nearly every tree species in northwest Montana is found in the Black Ram region of the Yaak Valley, under the shelter of these larch “mother trees.”
The Black Ram Project
The proposed 95,000-acre Black Ram project would commercially log nearly 4,000 acres, including clearcutting nearly 1,800 acres and logging over 400 acres of mature and old-growth forest. Click here to see more photos of what is at stake from the Black Ram project.
Carbon storage and biodiversity
This area is home to an isolated population of about 25 grizzly bears, North America’s most imperiled. The remaining old forests here are refuge for 190 other animal species, including 25% of Montana’s species of concern. These include lynx, wolverines, native trout and extremely vulnerable reptiles and amphibians, some of whom live only in the Kootenai National Forest. The carbon loss from these stands is irrecoverable in the short window left to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Why these trees should remain standing
The Forest Service claims this logging is needed to create “forest resilience” to withstand drought, insects and wildfires. Their misguided solution is to effectively clearcut the old forest and plant ecologically impoverished tree plantations where these carbon-storing champions and natural springs once stood. Tree plantations are at higher risk of wildfires than natural forests. The Forest Service has admitted, and the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed, that the Black Ram project is likely to harm Yaak Valley grizzlies, bears already threatened by unsustainable logging across the Canadian border. More roads and logging will bring more opportunities for human-bear conflicts, with often deadly consequences for grizzlies. Bear experts in the United States and Canada have raised alarm about the project.
The future of mature and old-growth trees in Kootenai National Forest
Old and mature forests, once blanketing the Yaak Valley, are now just a fraction of the forest. 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 on the Three Rivers District. The old carbon-storing champions of Black Ram are slated for the chainsaw at a time when we cannot afford to lose them.
The Forest Service released its final decision in June 2022, finding the project will have no significant environmental impact. Conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging this project.
How you can help
Sign our targeted letter to Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Haaland to call for durable protections for mature and old-growth forests on federal lands.
Submit Letters to the Editor about this project to your local newspaper.
Send emails and make phone calls to the Northern regional Forest Service office to oppose the Black Ram logging project.
Local contact: Rick Bass, Yaak Valley Forest Council, firstname.lastname@example.org