The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposes to establish an experimental population rule and reintroduce grizzly bears into the Bitterroot Ecosystem (BE) in east central Idaho. The rule would allow liberal management of grizzly bears by government agencies and the public to minimize conflicts over uses of public lands, effects on domestic animals and livestock, and impacts on ungulate populations. A Citizen Management Committee would be authorized management implementation responsibility for the experimental population and would be tasked with implementing the Bitterroot Chapter of the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. Reintroduction could result in grizzly bear recovery in the BE (achievement of the tentative recovery goal of approximately 280 grizzly bears occupying suitable habitat) in a minimum of 50 years (4% growth rate), but would likely more than 110 years (2% growth rate) after bears were released.

The Bitterroot Ecosystem, as characterized by data from 10 counties in central Idaho and 4 counties in western Montana, is approximately 44,419 square miles and 76% federal land. The area has a population of 219,061, has a $3.8 billion local economy, has 423,490 cattle and sheep (298,000 are grazed on national forests), has about 274,359 ungulates, with a hunter harvest of 38,007, and receives approximately 13,268,395 recreational visits annually to national forests in the area.

A recovered grizzly bear population would kill about 6 cattle (4-7) and 22 sheep (0-44), and up to 504 ungulates per year. This would not measurably impact ungulate populations or hunter harvest. Nuisance bear incidents could be up to 59 (0-118) per year. There would be no anticipated impacts to land use activities on public or private land, to include timber harvest, mining, and public access/recreational use. Changes to hunting seasons could occur due to conflicts. Risk to human health and safety from a recovered grizzly bear population would be less than 1 injury per year and less than 1 human mortality every few decades. Economic analyses indicate grizzly bear recovery in the BE would lead to total net economic benefits of 40.4-60.6 million dollars per year and total costs of $170,300-$176,000 per year (costs during the initial 5-year reintroduction phase would be $395,900-$401,600 per year).

The following alternatives are examined in this draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS):

Alternative 1. Reintroduction of a Nonessential Experimental Population Alternative (The Proposal). Accomplish grizzly bear recovery by reintroducing grizzly bears designated as a nonessential experimental population under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to central Idaho.

Alternative 2. The No Action Alternative - Natural Recovery. Encourage grizzly bears to naturally expand their current range into central Idaho and the Bitterroot Ecosystem.

Alternative 3. The No Grizzly Bear Alternative. Change current laws and prevent grizzly bear recovery.

Alternative 4. Reintroduction of a Threatened Population with Full Protection of the ESA Alternative. Achieve grizzly bear recovery through reintroduction and extensive habitat protection and enhancement to assist natural recovery. Bears would have full status as a threatened species under the provisions of the ESA.

Public comments on the DEIS are welcome and will be accepted from July 1, 1997, through September 30, 1997. Public hearings will be held during this period. A final EIS will then be prepared. Comments should be directed to: Dr. Christopher Servheen, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader, BITTERROOT GRIZZLY BEAR EIS, P.O. BOX 5127, MISSOULA, MONTANA 59806.

Ralph O. Morgenweck Approved_____________________________________

Regional Director, Region 6

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Date_________________________________________