Road bisecting bear habitat to reopen amid national security

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A long-closed road built through grizzly bear habitat in northern Idaho will reopen following national security concerns, federal agencies said.

The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the plan to reopen more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) of Bog Creek Road after years of discussion, The Spokesman-Review reported Monday.

The road was closed in the late 1980s to protect endangered grizzly bears roaming the area between Upper Priest Lake in Idaho and the Canadian border, officials said.

The U.S. Border Patrol has asked the Forest Service since 2013 to reopen the road because of threats to border security.

Neither agency specified the threats to border security.

The Forest Service is expected to install and repair culverts along the road, and cut back trees and other vegetation that has come close or obstructed the road, officials said.

The road will “not be open for public motorized use, but available for administrative use only to allow Customs and Border Protection to meet their statutory mission,” Forest Service officials said in a news release.

Opponents of the project are considering legal action.

“This project will reduce the amount of habitat available in the most important grizzly bear management unit in the Selkirk Recovery Zone,” said Brad Smith, Idaho Conservation League North Idaho director.

“Unfortunately, the agencies chose to ‘close’ roads that are either already undrivable or will provide little or no habitat value to bears," he said, explaining the agencies had an opportunity to close other roads.

“Even the government’s own analysis shows that this project will harm federally protected grizzly bears for years after the project begins,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are currently considering our options, which may include a lawsuit to prevent the harm that this project would cause to Idaho’s wildlife.”

The Forest Service published the final environmental impact statement on the Bog Creek Road project in February 2019. A draft statement was published in June.