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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

 

March 10, 2000

Contacts: Chris Servheen 406-243-4903
                Bob Ruesink 208-378-5243
                Laird Robinson 406-329-3434
                Sharon Rose 303-236-7917, x415
                Meggan Laxalt 208-378-5796
                Joan Jewett 503-231-6121

FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT
RELEASED ON REINTRODUCTION OF GRIZZLY BEARS
IN THE BITTERROOT ECOSYSTEM IN WESTERN MONTANA
AND CENTRAL IDAHO

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the availability of a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) describing the agency’s preferred alternative for reintroducing grizzly bears into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and Frank Church-- River of No Return Wilderness areas of Idaho and Montana. The reintroduced bears would be designated as a nonessential, experimental population and would be under the management of a 15-member Citizens Management Committee.

The issuance of the final EIS represents the next step in the decision-making process on reintroduction of grizzly bears into the Bitterroot Ecosystem, and the Service is inviting the public to submit comment on the plan. After reviewing the comments, the agency will issue a final decision on the plan later this year.

If the Service adopts the preferred alternative, a special rule under Section 10 (j) of the Endangered Species Act will be finalized to establish the nonessential experimental population and set up the framework for management by the Citizens Management Committee. A designation as a nonessential experimental population permits more flexibility in the management of species that are reintroduced to their historic range.

If the Service decides to go forward with the plan outlined in the EIS and funding is available, the agency would first establish the Citizens Management Committee, made up of local citizens and representatives from State and Federal agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe. Their job would be to implement grizzly bear recovery and develop policies and plans for management of grizzly bears in the experimental area.

"The conservation of threatened and endangered species is at its heart a partnership between the government and the people," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "The establishment of a Citizens Management Committee is a unique and innovative way to recover grizzly bears in the Bitterroot and will allow local citizens the opportunity to oversee conservation efforts. It is a reflection of the Service’s commitment to work with states, tribes and local communities."

During the first year, the Service also would install bear-proof trash cans and other sanitation equipment in key areas and conduct information and education programs for the public in western Montana and central Idaho. The actual reintroduction of the bears would occur no earlier than the second year of the plan. The bears would be located largely on Federal land in remote wilderness areas where they are unlikely to come into contact with people.

The purpose of reintroducing grizzlies would be to enhance the species potential for recovery in the lower 48 states.

An estimated 50,000 grizzly bears lived in the contiguous United States prior to European settlement. Grizzly bears have been eliminated from approximately 98 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Today, approximately 1,000-1,100 grizzly bears remain in 5 scattered populations in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington. Only two areas in the country (the Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem which includes Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness) have populations of several hundred grizzlies. The other three populations have approximately five to 50 grizzly bears each.

The grizzly bear is a native species of the Bitterroot Ecosystem and was once common there. Grizzlies were eliminated from the Bitterroots by the 1940's after a century of intensive persecution. Of all remaining unoccupied grizzly bear habitat in the lower 48 States, the Bitterroot Mountains wilderness area has the best potential for grizzly bear recovery. This area has the components of quality grizzly bear habitat. As such, the Bitterroot Ecosystem offers excellent potential to recover a healthy population of grizzly bears and to boost long-term survival and recovery prospects for this species in the contiguous United States. Recovery of endangered species, and their removal from the list of endangered species, is the ultimate goal of the Endangered Species Act.

Under the plan outlined in the EIS, the Service would reintroduce a minimum of 25 grizzly bears into 25,140 square miles of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness over a period of 5 years. The bears would be taken from areas in Canada and the United States that have healthy populations of grizzly bears living in habitats similar to those found in the Bitterroot ecosystem.

All reintroduced bears would be radio-collared and monitored to determine their movements and how they use their habitat, and to keep the public informed through media outreach of general bear locations and recovery efforts. Under the plan, the Service would only consider bears with no known history of conflicts with people for reintroduction.

Suitable bears would be released at remote wilderness sites within the Bitterroot Mountains of east-central Idaho that have high quality bear habitat and low likelihood of human encounters. By designating the reintroduced grizzly population as nonessential experimental, bears that frequent areas of high human use, act aggressively toward humans, or attack livestock would be relocated or destroyed, based on actions in the Interagency Grizzly Bear Guidelines.

The grizzly bear gets its grizzled appearance from long, silver-tipped guard hairs above a brownish coat that can range in shade from blond to black. It has long, light-colored foreclaws (4 inches or more long), a hump between its high shoulders, and a dish-shaped face. An adult female weighs in at 250 to 350 pounds, while a male reaches 400 to 600 pounds. In Idaho and Montana, grizzlies breed from May through July, with most activity in June. They hibernate from November through April. Young born in January during hibernation nurse for almost one year. Females mature at age 4 to 6 and have one to four cubs (usually two) every third year thereafter. Cubs usually stay with their mother for two years, then strike out to establish their own home range. Grizzly bears require a large area for movement and food searches. The bear is an omnivore that feeds on berries, whitebark pine nuts, dead animals, bulbs, roots, grasses, and insects.

Public comments on the final environmental impact statement are welcome and should be sent to Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University Hall-Room 309, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812 or electronically mailed to <FW6_Bitterroot@fws.gov> by April 24, 2000. The document also is available for viewing and downloading at mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/grizzly.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 520 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


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