Grizzly Bears Will Not Be Reintroduced into U.S. West

WASHINGTON, DC, June 21, 2001 (ENS) - The opponents of grizzly bear reintroduction into the Bitterroot ecosystem of Idaho and Montana have gotten their way. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday proposed to withdraw a federal plan to reintroduce grizzly bears into the region.


Interior Secretary Gale Norton (Photo courtesy Office of the Secretary)
Saying that recovery efforts and resources should be concentrated on existing grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states, Interior Secretary Gale Norton declared that the service has the discretion and flexibility to identify the highest priority recovery activities while operating within its budget.

Still, Secretary Norton said her agency will work for grizzly bear recovery. "The grizzlies deserve the best opportunities for their populations to thrive and prosper and I am fully committed to the recovery of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states," said Norton.

The grizzly bear is listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act. There are approximately 1,100 grizzly bears in these states, in five separate populations in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington.

In November 2000, the Clinton era U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a Record of Decision for a Final Environmental Impact Statement to reintroduce grizzlies into the Bitterroot ecosystem.

The service is now reevaluating this Record of Decision and is proposing a "No Action" alternative. The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal before a final decision is reached. If the No Action alternative is selected, grizzly bears would not be reintroduced into the Bitterroot ecosystem.


Grizzly bear cub (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
In 1997, then Idaho Governor Phil Batt and Attorney General Al Lance, told the federal authorities that grizzly bear reintroduction plans were opposed by state residents, were scientifically flawed, and should be withdrawn.

Current U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, who was then regional forester for the Northern Region, also opposed the plan, saying that in public hearings the draft environment impact statement for the reintroduction did not attract strong support.

In January, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne had the state file a federal district court lawsuit seeking to stop the grizzly reintroduction.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, who oversaw the reintroduction plan as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Clinton administration, said today that Norton's decision to shelve grizzly bear recovery in central Idaho and western Montana, "sets a dangerous precedent in vetoing a major conservation initiative in a way that undermines the purposes of the Endangered Species Act."

Norton has given in to the position of Idaho in its lawsuit against the reintroduction, said Clark, who is now the senior vice president for conservation at the National Wildlife Federation, the nation's largest environmental group.

"Secretary Norton has entered dangerous territory with the appearance that governors may exercise a veto power over the enforcement of a national commitment to protect and restore imperiled wildlife," Clark said.

But Norton says grizzly bear recovery cannot succeed without the backing of the people in the states where the bears will live. "Building support from state leaders is an important element to any potential partnership of this size and scope. I am committed to ensuring the support of the states, local communities, and all interested stakeholders as we move forward with our grizzly bear recovery efforts," she said.


Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Idaho Governor Kempthorne is pleased with Norton's proposal to take no action to reintroduce grizzly bears into Idaho. Speaking from Brussels, Belgium where he is leading a Council of State Governments delegation visit to Europe, the Kempthorne said, "The Secretary is absolutely right in reconsidering this flawed policy from the Clinton administration."

"The state of Idaho has made it very clear from the outset that it opposes reintroduction of grizzlies to Central Idaho, and the Interior Department is correct in focusing its recovery efforts on other bear populations in the lower 48 states," Kempthorne said.

From Clark's point of view, the Interior Department has missed an opportunity to involve the local people in the centerpiece of her bear recovery plan adopted last November - a local citizens committee to manage grizzly bear reintroduction.

"Secretary Norton has walked away from a golden common sense opportunity to balance the needs of wildlife and people by using local citizen management to recover an imperiled species. Americans have a right to expect more than no action from the person who should be nation's chief advocate for wildlife," Clark said.


Eastern front of the Bitterroot Mountain Range along the Montana-Idaho border. (Photo courtesy mountaincam)
The Fish and Wildlife Service will continue actions to conserve and recover grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem, where a grizzly population of 400 to 600 bears is increasing two to four percent annually, and in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, where grizzly populations are stable or increasing and number 400 to 500 bears, Norton said.

The Service will also continue to focus recovery efforts and methods to preserve and increase populations in the Selkirk ecosystem where there are 40 to 50 bears; the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem, with 30 to 40 bears; and the Northern Cascade ecosystem where there are five bears.

Recovery programs include activities such as improving management of grizzly bears on public lands, genetic research, population monitoring, public education, and implementing the recovery plans for each population.

The Service spends approximately $450,000 annually on grizzly recovery, and employs three full time biologists on grizzly recovery projects.

Standing about seven feet tall, male grizzlies are some of the largest North American land mammals. Grizzly bears need a very large home range, 50 to 300 square miles for females; 200 to 500 square miles for males, encompassing diverse forests interspersed with moist meadows and grasslands in or near mountains.

An estimated 50,000 grizzly bears lived in the lower states prior to European settlement. Grizzly bears have been eliminated from 98 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Grizzlies are not listed as threatened in Canada and Alaska where they are more numerous. There are an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 grizzlies in British Columbia and 30,000 to 35,000 in Alaska.