July 16, 1999
Chris Servheen (406) 243-4903 or (406) 240-6506
Sharon Rose (303) 236-7917, x415


 Available for comment in today’s issue of the Federal Register are draft habitat-based criteria for the recovery of the threatened grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Comments on the document should be addressed to the Service’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, University Hall, Room 309, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812 and postmarked by September 14, 1999.

One of the tasks in the Service’s 1993 revised grizzly bear recovery plan requires the development of the habitat values necessary for a recovered population; this same issue was part of a settlement in a court case involving the recovery plan. As a result of these two requirements, the Service developed a draft of habitat criteria for the Yellowstone ecosystem with the help of USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Over 1,000 comments from the public and suggestions received from attendees at a grizzly bear workshop in Bozeman were used in creating this draft. Outlined in these criteria are specific values of habitat that need to be maintained. These include access (motorized roads and trails), development on public lands, and livestock grazing on public lands. In addition general habitat-based parameters will also be monitored, including the four most important grizzly bear foods; the effectiveness of the habitat, using the cumulative effects model; nuisance bear control actions, bear-human conflicts, bear-hunter conflicts, and bear livestock conflicts; and development on private lands.

As grizzly bear recovery efforts continue, habitat criteria will be developed for each grizzly bear ecosystem to address the food, vegetation, habitat, and human activities in that specific area to assure in their long-term recovery.

Also available in the same Federal Register notice is a document that describes the Service’s finding on five items that could affect recovery of grizzlies. These issues include disease and parasites, livestock interactions and mortality, the effects of genetic isolation, population monitoring methods, and the Service’s reliance on Canada for the recovery of the grizzly bear. Reconsideration on these five issues was a result of the court settlement between the United States and several other environmental organizations, over the adequacy of the 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.

The overall objective of the grizzly bear recovery program is to assure the long term existence of a grizzly population in all areas where a viable population can be sustained south of Canada. The available habitat for bears is largely determined by human activities. The issue of how many grizzlies can live in any specific area is a function of overall habitat productivity, annual production and availability of important foods, and the levels and type of human activities. As food availability fluctuates, there are corresponding changes in bear density in important use areas and changes in social tolerance within the bear population. Bear-bear and human-bear relationships are complex and act in relation to densities of bears, densities of humans, and availability of foods. A viable and recovered population is one that has high long-term prospects for survival within acceptable levels of risk.

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 comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance 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 wildlife agencies.