[Federal Register: June 22, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 121)]
[Page 33623-33624]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 33623]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Reevaluation of the Record of Decision for the Final 
Environmental Impact Statement and Selection of Alternative for Grizzly 
Bear Recovery in the Bitterroot Ecosystem

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), published in 
March 2000, evaluated a proposal to establish an experimental 
population rule and reintroduce grizzly bears into the Bitterroot 
Ecosystem (BE) in east-central Idaho and western Montana. The Preferred 
Alternative, selected in the Record of Decision (ROD) published 
November 17, 2000 (65 FR 69644), was to establish a nonessential 
experimental population of grizzlies in the BE under section 10(j) of 
the Endangered Species Act. A final rule to implement the Preferred 
Alternative was published in the Federal Register on November 17, 2000 
(65 FR 69623), and is codified at 50 CFR 17.84(l). We, the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service), have reevaluated our decision with 
respect to grizzly bear recovery in the BE. This change is based on the 
Service's need to prioritize its recovery activities for grizzly bears, 
and the objections of affected States to the reintroduction of grizzly 
bears. We are now proposing to select the No Action Alternative as our 
Preferred Alternative. We are opening a public comment period and, 
after receipt and review of all comments, the Service will make a final 
decision with regard to this proposal.

DATES: Public comments will be accepted in writing on or before August 
21, 2001. We particularly request written comments on (1) new 
information on the impacts of the No Action Alternative and (2) this 
proposal to select the No Action alternative.

ADDRESSES: Written comments should be addressed to Assistant Regional 
Director, Ecological Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Box 
25486 DFC, Denver, Colorado 80225. Comments also may be mailed 
electronically to FW6_grizzly@fws.gov. The Final EIS, Record of 
Decision, and final rule are available for viewing and downloading at 
http://www.r6.fws.gov/endspp/grizzly/. Comments and materials received 
are available on request for public inspection, by appointment, during 
normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Susan Baker, Assistant Regional 
Director, Ecological Services (see ADDRESSES above) at telephone 303-



    A Recovery Plan for the Grizzly Bear was finalized in 1982. This 
plan called for the evaluation of the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem as a 
potential recovery area. It identified the Bitterroot Ecosystem (BE) as 
a recovery area for bears and states that bears are not currently known 
to be present in that ecosystem. We revised the Grizzly Bear Recovery 
Plan in 1993 and in 1996 produced the Bitterroot Ecosystem Recovery 
Plan Chapter as an appendix. This Chapter called for the reintroduction 
of a small number of grizzly bears into the BE as an experimental, 
nonessential population under section 10(j) of the Act and the 
preparation of a special rule and an Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS) on this proposal. In general, establishing a nonessential 
experimental population may result in more flexible management 
practices to address potential negative impacts or concerns during a 
species' recovery. The Chapter identified a tentative long-term 
recovery objective of approximately 280 grizzly bears for the BE.
    A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), published in March 
2000 (see 65 FR 12570, March 9, 2000), evaluated a proposal to 
establish an experimental population rule and reintroduce grizzly bears 
into the BE in east-central Idaho and western Montana. Six alternatives 
were discussed: (1) Restoration of Grizzly Bears as a Nonessential 
Experimental Population with Citizen Management (Preferred 
Alternative); (1A) Restoration of Grizzly Bears as a Nonessential 
Experimental Population with Service Management; (2) Natural Recovery--
The No Action Alternative; (3) No Grizzly Bear Alternative; (4) 
Restoration of Grizzly Bears as a Threatened Population with Full 
Protection of the Act and Habitat Restoration; and (4A) Restoration of 
Grizzly Bears as a Threatened Population with Full Protection of the 
Act and Service Management.
    On November 13, 2000, the Service signed the Record of Decision 
(ROD) on the Final EIS, and selected the Preferred Alternative 
(Alternative 1 in the Final EIS) for implementation. This alternative 
was the Restoration of Grizzly Bears as a Nonessential Experimental 
Population with Citizen Management. Reintroduction could result in 
grizzly bear recovery in the BE in a minimum of 50 years. (See FEIS for 
more detailed information). In order to implement the Proposed Action 
Alternative in the FEIS, the Service was required to publish a 
regulation to establish a nonessential experimental population of 
grizzly bears under section 10(j) of the Act. Section 10(j) of the ESA 
says that the Secretary may authorize the release of a population if it 
will further recovery. Thus, establishment of an experimental 
population is a discretionary action.
    The ROD identified the Proposed Alternative as the best balance 
between Service recovery goals and public needs at that time. Failure 
to reestablish grizzly bears in the BE does not appreciably diminish 
the survival probabilities of bears in the other occupied ecosystems. 
However, recovery of grizzly bears in the BE would have added an 
additional measure of security for the species over the long term. In 
the ROD we said that implementation of the Preferred Alternative was 
contingent upon adequate funding, so that the current level of Service 
activities in other grizzly bear recovery areas would not be 
compromised. We also stated that bears would be reintroduced in 2002 at 
the earliest, again contingent upon available funding.

Recovery Priorities

    The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan identifies six ecosystems in the 
United States as recovery areas for bears. Of those, only two--the 
Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) and Yellowstone Ecosystem 
(YGBE)--are believed to have stable or increasing populations of 
grizzlies. Many people believe that the population in Yellowstone has 
met all of its recovery criteria. We have not yet statistically 
quantified the size and growth rates of the NCDE population. Three 
other ecosystems, the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, and North Cascades, have 
smaller bear populations and a higher level of threats than the NCDE 
and YGBE recovery areas. In fact, there may not be a permanent 
population of bears in the section of the North Cascades Ecosystem in 
the United States; however, bears may occasionally move back and forth 
from the adjacent Canadian section of the Ecosystem. The status of 
bears in all three of these ecosystems has been evaluated recently and 
bears in all three areas were found to warrant listing as endangered, 
rather than their current designation as threatened (66 FR 1295, 
January 8, 2001). To date, no action to change their status has 
occurred, due to other higher priority actions in the listing program. 
In the 1993 Grizzly Bear

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Recovery Plan, we state that funds will only be expended contingent 
upon appropriations, priorities, and other budgetary constraints.
    While the ESA requires us to carry out recovery actions for listed 
species, we have the discretion and flexibility to identify the highest 
priority recovery activities and to determine if experimental 
populations should be established. The Service believes that addressing 
identified recovery needs in the ecosystems that already contain 
grizzly bears is a high priority. Examples of recovery activities in 
these ecosystems that should be given priority may include: ongoing 
mark-recapture population estimation studies in the YGBE; ongoing 
genetic studies for population size estimation in the NCDE; or 
finalization and printing of the interagency Conservation Strategy for 
management of bears inside the YGBE recovery area after delisting 
occurs. Accordingly, we have determined that it is not prudent or 
consistent with our recovery priorities to establish a new grizzly 
population in the Bitterroot Ecosystem at this time. To the extent that 
funding is available, the Service intends to apply it to the activities 
identified above, as well as to other priority actions to recover 
grizzly bears in those ecosystems where grizzlies are currently found.
    We remain firmly committed to the recovery of grizzly bears in the 
lower 48 States. However, we strongly believe that the only way to 
effectively recover grizzly bears is with the help and support of 
affected States. In order to achieve this, we will continue to work in 
close cooperation and consultation with States and local governments. 
As we look toward future recovery efforts, we also plan to explore our 
full range of options for recovery, including focusing increased 
efforts such as relocation, augmentation, or reintroduction of grizzly 
bears in some or all of the six identified recovery areas for grizzly 
bears as priorities, need, and resources dictate.

Proposed Action

    We are proposing to select the No Action Alternative in the 
Bitterroot FEIS at this time as our Preferred Alternative. This 
alternative assumes that current management activities will continue 
for at least the next 50 years. The overall environmental effects of 
taking no action would likely result in no recovery of grizzly bears in 
the BE in the near future, although grizzly bears may begin to 
repopulate the area in 50 or more years. If grizzly bears did naturally 
disperse to the BE, they would be protected as threatened under the 
ESA. (See FEIS for a thorough evaluation of this alternative.) If we 
select the No Action Alternative, we will remove section 17.84(l) from 
title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). (See related 
proposed rule elsewhere in this edition of the Federal Register). This 
does not mean that we are permanently precluding a reintroduced 
population of grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem.


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, U.S.C. 1533.

    Dated: June 18, 2001.
Joseph E. Doddridge,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 01-15909 Filed 6-21-01; 8:45 am]