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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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

April 22, 1999
Chris Servheen 406-243-4903
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917, x415


Based on an analysis of the status of the grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk recovery zones of Idaho, Montana, and Washington, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that reclassifying the population from threatened to endangered is warranted but precluded by the need to protect other species.

The Service’s analysis, conducted in response to a U.S. District Court order, weighed the best scientific and commercial information available on past, present, and future threats faced by grizzly bears in the two recovery zones, which the Service is now combining into one zone.

Biologists concluded the population is in danger of extinction because it is small and threatened by habitat alteration and the cumulative impacts of recreation, timber harvest, mining, road construction and other human activities. In addition it is facing potential isolation by activities across the border in Canada.

However, following established policy, the Service decided not to dedicate its limited resources to reclassifying a species that is already protected under the Act when other unlisted species need protection.

Because of the large number of species needing protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Service uses a priority system to deal first with the species in the most serious need of protection. According to this listing guidance, the reclassification of already listed species, such as the grizzly bear, has a lower priority than processing proposed listings of new species to the threatened and endangered species list.

Since 1993, the Service has issued listing decisions on 19 species in its Mountain-Prairie Region. At the present time, 16 additional higher priority candidate species in this region need to be addressed, putting them ahead of any reclassifications.

"Grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak/Selkirk recovery zone should be classified as endangered according to our most recent data, but they are already receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species," said Ralph Morgenweck, director for the Service's Mountain-Prairie region. "The Service has to focus its resources on other species that have been proposed for listing, such as the Canada lynx or mountain plover, or are being reviewed for possible listing, before we reclassify the grizzly bear."

During the preparation of the new finding to determine whether the grizzly bear should be reclassified as endangered, Service biologists found new information indicating that grizzly bears in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak recovery zones move from one zone to the other. The connection of the two zones appears to occur within British Columbia, within 20 miles of the international boundary.

This information indicates that there is possibly a genetic link among grizzly bear populations in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas. With this new data, the Service decided to combine the two recovery zones into one zone that encompasses about 3,600 square miles of the 38,000 square miles of remaining grizzly bear habitat in the United States. Grizzly bears in the combined Cabinet-Yaak/Selkirk recovery zone number less than 100 animals.

The Service still believes that movement of grizzly bears between any of the other recovery zones, which include Yellowstone, North Cascades, Northern Continental Divide, and the Bitterroot, does not occur.

Both the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas are unique ecological settings because they contain low elevation inland habitat for grizzlies. Significant portions of the recovery zone along the Yaak River and on the east side of the Selkirk Mountains occur in areas between 2,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation, with wet, dense forests dominated largely by cedar and hemlock. These habitat types are either limited or not present in the other recovery zones.

Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) inhabited most of the western United States and were believed to number 50,000 individuals at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s. Populations declined to less than 1,000 in the conterminous 48 states by the 1970s.

The Service's finding of "warranted but precluded" was a result of two petitions filed by the Fund for Animals, Inc. and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation in early 1991 that requested the Service to reclassify the grizzly bear from threatened to endangered in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems. The petition from Fund for Animals also requested that the Service reclassify grizzly bears in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems.

The Service issued a finding of "not warranted" for Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems, but found that there was substantial information to do a status review on the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk areas.

On February 12, 1993, the Service issued a "warranted but precluded" finding for the Cabinet-Yaak and a "not warranted" finding for the Selkirk ecosystem. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asked the Service for additional information and analysis on overuse, particularly trends of human-caused mortality, survival and reproductive rates in the Selkirk recovery zone. In March 1996, the Service responded to the court with supplementary information.

In June 1998, the Service again found the Cabinet-Yaak recovery zone to be "warranted but precluded" for reclassification. In October 1998, the court sent the Selkirk matter back to the Service. In January 1999, the Service requested additional time to respond to the court order.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries 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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