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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

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

June 12, 1997

Sharon Rose 303-236-7905
Laird Robinson 406-329-3434



U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE PROPOSES TO REINTRODUCE NONESSENTIAL EXPERIMENTAL POPULATION OF GRIZZLY BEARS IN SELWAY-BITTERROOT ECOSYSTEM



Ralph Morgenweck, Regional Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced today the Department of the Interior's approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's preferred alternative for reintroduction of grizzly bears in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem located in central Idaho and a small part of western Montana. Morgenweck made the announcement before the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health of the House Committee on Resources.

Morgenweck said the preferred alternative will be contained in a draft environmental impact statement to be published around July 1 and calls for introduction of 3 to 5 bears annually into the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem as a nonessential experimental population. Nonessential-experimental means the population is not essential to the species' survival. Such designations afford wider latitude in enforcing endangered species restrictions. Under the designation, people can kill a grizzly bear in self- defense. In addition, the regulation includes procedures to remove bears that are a threat to livestock.


Concurrent with release of the draft impact statement will be an opportunity for the public to comment on a proposed rule to be published in the Federal Register, which describes how the preferred alternative would be implemented. The present schedule calls for the draft Environmental Impact Statement to be available to the public soon after July 1. Comments on the draft statement and the proposed rule should be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University Hall, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812 within 90 days of when the draft is published.


"Of all the remaining unoccupied grizzly bear habitat in the lower 48 states, the Bitterroot Mountains have the greatest potential for grizzly bear recovery, primarily because of the large wilderness area," Morgenweck said. "And with the flexibility of a nonessential experimental population designation under the Endangered Species Act, the options for managing the bear are much greater than in areas where it is listed as a threatened species," Morgenweck added.


After review and consideration of all alternatives described in the draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Fish and Wildlife Service selected as its preferred alternative

Alternative #1, which accommodates the interests of a group of community members who live and work in the area where grizzly bears are proposed for reintroduction. The group, known as Roots, is made up of local citizens in the Bitterroot area including communities in both Montana and Idaho, and representatives from the timber industry, and some national environmental groups.


After designating Alternative #1 as the Fish and Wildlife Service's preferred alternative, the Service authored a proposed rule that describes in detail the reintroduction of a nonessential experimental population of grizzly bears.


The Service's preferred alternative includes a 15-member Citizen Management Committee (CMC) to be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior in consultation with the governors of Idaho and Montana and the Nez Perce Tribe. The Secretary of the Interior would delegate management implementation authority for the Bitterroot grizzly bear experimental population to this group after consulting with the governors of Idaho and Montana. The members would serve six-year terms and would consist of seven individuals appointed by the Secretary of Interior based on recommendations of the Governor of Idaho, five members appointed by the Secretary of the Interior based on the recommendations of the Governor of Montana, one member appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture or his/her designee, one member appointed by the Secretary of the Interior or his/her designee, and one member recommended by the Nez Perce Tribe and appointed by the Secretary of the Interior.


The Citizen Management Committee would consist of a cross-section of interests, reflecting a balance of viewpoints, and be selected for their diversity of knowledge and experience in natural resource issues and for their commitment to team decision making. Team members would be selected from communities within and adjacent to the recovery and experimental population areas. The decisions and actions should lead to the recovery of the Bitterroot grizzly population. The committee would continue until the recovery objectives for the Bitterroot population are met and the population has been delisted.



In accordance with the preferred alternative, periodically, the Secretary of the Interior would review the efforts of the Citizens Management Committee. If the efforts of the Committee did not lead toward recovery within the experimental population area, the Secretary would recommend corrective actions to be accomplished within a six-month period. If the Secretary finds the Committee's management inadequate for recovery, he/she would assume management authority for the Bitterroot experimental grizzly bear population.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists believe that the potential for grizzly bear recovery will be enhanced in the lower 48 states by reintroductions of bears in the Selway-Bitterroot and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states, encompassing 5,786 square miles. Grizzly bears in general are shy (avoid humans), solitary animals and opportunistic feeders. The primary reason grizzly bears are not found in many areas is due to past intensive pressure that resulted in human-caused mortality. Wilderness areas, as defined in the Wilderness Act, are in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape. A wilderness area is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled (not hindered) by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. It is an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.


In addition to the wilderness aspect of the proposed action, by reintroducing grizzly bears in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem, the total area inhabited by grizzly bears in the lower 48 states will be increased by almost 10,000 square miles or almost 25 percent. With this increase in habitat occupied by grizzly bears, there is more potential for the species as a whole to recover sooner. Even with this increase, recovery of the grizzly bear is a slow process. With reproduction occurring only once every three years, recovery of the grizzly bear in the Bitterroot ecosystem, using reintroduction of a minimum of 3-5 animals per year for 5 years, may take as long as 100 years.


Included in the draft environmental impact statement is an evaluation of all of the alternatives considered for recovery of the grizzly bear:

Alternative 1: Reintroduction of a Nonessential Experimental Population

(preferred alternative)

Alternative 2: No Action - Natural Recovery of a Grizzly Bear Population

Alternative 3: No Grizzly Bears

Alternative 4: Reintroduction of a Threatened Population with Full Protection of the Endangered Species Act

In addition to the 90-day review period for the draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule, opportunities for the public to comment will be held in and around the proposed reintroduction area, including Hamilton, Missoula, Helena, Montana; and Salmon, Lewiston, and Boise, Idaho. Dates, times and locations for the meetings/hearings will be announced in the Federal Register and in the local communities.


Intensive surveys and reviews have shown that no grizzly bears have existed in the proposed reintroduction area since the early 1940's.

 


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