The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Andrea Santarsiere, (303) 854-7748

Petition Filed to Reintroduce Grizzly Bears to Selway-Bitterroot of Idaho and Montana

Proposal Would Revive Stalled 14-year-old Federal Grizzly Repopulation Plan


The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today requesting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service develop a new rule to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem in central Idaho and western Montana. The agency first initiated a plan to return grizzly bears to the area in 1996 and in 2000 finalized a reintroduction plan. But after George W. Bush took office in 2001, the plan went into limbo. Today's petition seeks to reinitiate the effort.

"Grizzly bears live in less than 4 percent of their historic range and need to be reintroduced into the Selway-Bitterroot to have any shot at real recovery," said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center. "The Service has repeatedly committed to reestablishing a grizzly bear population in this region. We're just asking them to move forward with that commitment."

The Selway-Bitterroot was recognized as one of six grizzly bear recovery areas in the 1993 recovery plan for the species, which noted the importance the Selway-Bitterroot could play in connecting isolated bear populations, particularly the isolated population in Yellowstone National Park. The Selway-Bitterroot, however, remains the only established recovery area without any documented resident grizzly bears.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service should not be working to remove endangered species protections from Yellowstone's isolated grizzlies until it gets the stalled reintroduction effort in the Selway-Bitterroot back on track," said Santarsiere. "The Selway-Bitterroot contains some of the biggest and best habitat for bears left in the lower 48 states and could be a linchpin in recovering this species in the northern Rockies."

With more than 16 million acres of land, and centered around the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, the Selway-Bitterroot represents one of the largest contiguous areas of suitable habitat for grizzly bears in the western United States. It provides the most likely solution to long-term genetic concerns surrounding the Greater Yellowstone population. Scientists predict the area could support a population of 300 to 600 bears.

Today's petition follows a Center petition filed in June calling on the Fish and Wildlife Service to expand grizzly recovery to vast portions of the American West; the petition identified 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in parts of seven states, including the Selway-Bitterroot area. Grizzly bears currently occur in just five ecosystems in the lower 48 states, with a total of an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 bears. These ecosystems generally remain isolated from each other, with the Greater Yellowstone and the North Cascades populations completely disconnected from any other grizzly populations. Without connectivity to other populations, grizzly bears are vulnerable to inbreeding and genetic depression.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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