Judge orders new work on Bitterroot grizzly plan

atlas

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https://www.montanarightnow.com/new...cle_be6c128b-e6b5-5fed-9194-e88ca67d755d.html
A plan to transplant grizzly bears into the Bitterroot Mountains that’s been stalled for 22 years must be actively reconsidered, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

“Because the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service has unreasonably delayed in implementing its 2000 Record of Decision and Final Rule regarding grizzly bears and failed to conduct a supplemental EIS (environmental impact statement) based on the changed circumstances, plaintiffs succeed,” U.S. District Judge Don Molloy wrote in his March 15 opinion in Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystem Alliance v. FWS and Idaho. Molloy ordered FWS to present a plan for updating the Bitterroot grizzly project by April 15, or he would impose a timeline himself.

The case stems from an effort in the 1990s to create an experimental population of grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem — one of six recovery areas designated as grizzly habitat under the Endangered Species Act protection plan. While the 25,140-square-mile expanse of the Bitterroots along the Montana-Idaho border and an extensive roadless and wilderness complex farther west in Idaho were historic grizzly strongholds, the entire population was killed off in the early 20th century.


After almost 15 years of public debate and scientific research, FWS approved a plan to transplant 25 grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem in 2000. Unlike naturally occurring grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems, those Bitterroot bears would be an experimental population managed through a local community advisory committee.

But the FWS plan was finalized just as President Bill Clinton’s administration was transitioning to that of President George W. Bush. Bush’s Interior Department officials changed course in 2001 and chose a “no action” option. Confusingly, that 2001 proposed rule was never officially adopted.

“Now, almost 40 years have passed, and nothing has been done; no bears, no community advisory committee, no community or other educational instruction in towns or schools for bear safety, safe practices in garbage storage techniques, and other ways to reduce attracting bears,” Molloy wrote. Because the federal government had never officially dropped the reintroduction plan, Molloy ruled it was obligated to carry out its commitment.

However, the intervening 22 years have complicated everyone’s positions, to the point Molloy wrote “further delay may be the most appropriate remedy to ensure that grizzly bear recovery efforts are based on contemporaneous and accurate scientific data … The remedy conundrum creates the unenviable prospect of forgiving one wrong to prevent another.”


The biggest change came from the grizzly bears themselves. Specifically, last year, government biologists confirmed a grizzly sow had successfully denned and had cubs in the Bitterroot Ecosystem. Along with a growing collection of sightings, tracking collar records and other evidence of grizzly presence, bear advocates decided to revive the debate over the dormant plan.

“The confirmed bear den was the trigger,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies Executive Director Michael Garrity said on Thursday. “The Bitterroot ecosystem is the lynchpin to recovering and delisting grizzly bears because it is the connecting corridor between the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Northern Continental Divide and Yellowstone ecosystems grizzly populations. Of all remaining “unoccupied” grizzly bear habitat in the Lower 48 states, this area has the best potential for grizzly bear recovery, primarily due to the large wilderness area. To recover and delist grizzly bears, there has to be one connected population."

Under FWS rules, the agency can’t set up an experimental population in the same place a naturally occurring population has occupied. In his order, Molloy resolved that problem by ordering FWS to complete a new environmental impact statement reviewing how the bears are managed and what people must do to ensure they can persist there.

Grizzly bears received “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. At that time, fewer than 1,000 grizzlies still survived in the Lower 48 states — down from an estimated 50,000 at the time of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery in 1805. And while those grizzlies used to roam almost everywhere west of the Dakotas between Canada and Mexico, the remainder were restricted to about 2% of their former habitat.

Today, about 2,000 grizzlies occupy the Rocky Mountains between Glacier National Park and northern Idaho south to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Wyoming and Idaho. The governors of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have all petitioned to have the grizzly delisted from federal protection. In February, FWS began a formal review of the grizzly’s ESA status. However, it noted that recent state efforts to liberalize grizzly killing could result in continued ESA management, rather than delisting.

The presence of grizzly bears in the Bitterroots can affect lots of other human activity. For example, proposals to log old-growth forests and mine in the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly recovery area of northwest Montana have to account for the impacts on the roughly 50 grizzlies living there. Grizzly activity in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem restricts the use of hounds for hunting black bears and access for snowmobiles. Molloy noted in his order that FWS’ delay in implementing the 2000 grizzly reintroduction plan resulted in nobody in the Bitterroots having policies in place to keep bears out of trash, keep hikers’ food secured in the backcountry or other adaptations common in places like Kalispell or West Yellowstone.

FWS spokesman Joe Szuszwalak said the agency was reviewing Molloy’s decision and had no further comment on Thursday.
 
That ship has sailed. The bears are already there. Didn't they trap one literally on the golf course in Stevi a few years back? I know there's been several documented sightings. They might not be thick but they are present.
 
That ship has sailed. The bears are already there. Didn't they trap one literally on the golf course in Stevi a few years back? I know there's been several documented sightings. They might not be thick but they are present.
There was one killed in the Bitterroot-Selway by a hunting guide about 15 years ago. There was one in Willow Creek on the East side 3 years ago. mtmuley
 
If I'm reading this correctly the decision is not to revisit the idea of transplanting bears, but to create a new management plan for the bears that have arrived and are going to stay. Previously there could not be a management plan sine there were no bears. Now that they have bears they can't create a management plan under current rules.

From the article:
"Under FWS rules, the agency can’t set up an experimental population in the same place a naturally occurring population has occupied. In his order, Molloy resolved that problem by ordering FWS to complete a new environmental impact statement reviewing how the bears are managed and what people must do to ensure they can persist there."

and

"Molloy noted in his order that FWS’ delay in implementing the 2000 grizzly reintroduction plan resulted in nobody in the Bitterroots having policies in place to keep bears out of trash, keep hikers’ food secured in the backcountry or other adaptations common in places like Kalispell or West Yellowstone."

Again, if I'm reading it correctly, this is a pretty common sense ruling and kind of a nothingburger.

Montana Public Radio's article was a little shorter (bolding is my own)

"A federal judge in Missoula Tuesday ordered wildlife officials to reevaluate their efforts to establish a grizzly bear population in Southwest Montana and central Idaho.

Missoula U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy says federal wildlife officials failed to protect an emerging population of bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem.

Environmental groups argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service violated federal law by failing to follow through on the agency’s plan to conserve bears that traveled into the region from other populations.

The service’s plan, more than two decades old, says that if bears returned to the uninhabited ecosystem on their own, the agency would need to implement habitat and other protections for the population under the Endangered Species Act. Malloy said the service needs to reevaluate how it’s managing Bitterroot bears.

Environmental groups involved in the case hope that the ruling will force federal wildlife officials to stop transporting bears that have conflicts with humans out of the ecosystem and provide more protections.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it’s reviewing the decision, but didn’t provide further comment."
 
That ship has sailed. The bears are already there. Didn't they trap one literally on the golf course in Stevi a few years back? I know there's been several documented sightings. They might not be thick but they are present.
That good boy was doing god's work by tearing up a golf course. I'm of the opinion that he should've honored instead of transplanted. ;)
 
"The Bitterroot ecosystem is the lynchpin to recovering and delisting grizzly bears because it is the connecting corridor between the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Northern Continental Divide ecosystems"

These "conservation groups" aka bunny huggers with a legal team will never be happy with the bear populations. Look at how fast griz are moving east. The bears simply don't want to live in places like the cabinet-yaak. They'd rather eat wheat and barely than pine needles.
 
"The Bitterroot ecosystem is the lynchpin to recovering and delisting grizzly bears because it is the connecting corridor between the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Northern Continental Divide ecosystems"

These "conservation groups" aka bunny huggers with a legal team will never be happy with the bear populations. Look at how fast griz are moving east. The bears simply don't want to live in places like the cabinet-yaak. They'd rather eat wheat and barely than pine needles.
Yeah I’d put zero faith in that statement; as we see the goal posts will be continually moving. Next the kicker will be connection to cascade bears and then bears somewhere else, and then not enough genetic diversity and on and on
 
If I remember correctly, they couldn't release the Stevensville bear into the Bitterroot like many wanted because there wasn't a management plan in place. But maybe this will change that and if bears are caught in the peripheral they will be relocated into the Bitterroot.
 
This is interesting! It’s crazy to think we wiped all the grizzly bears out of this country with how rugged it is. It sounds like they’ll make their way back in, slowly, and hopefully the residents will grow accustomed to them
 
Just last year they captured a couple near Florence and Lolo and from what I understand, opened up a new transplant area in a "remote spot in the nearby Sapphire Mountains".

From the very little research I did and watching an interesting video lecture of an old timer grizzly expert, it seemed like the greatest impediment for their travel corridor has been the I90 highway. They had tracking collars of them spending all kinds of time and miles looking for a good crossing, etc..

Bear proof garbage cans just make good common sense, as there are often black bears rummaging through cans here in the west side of the Bitterroot.
 

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