Grizzly bear

Grizzly bears like this one are finding the eastern side of the Beartooth Front a hospitable temporary home.

An environmental group has filed notice it will sue the Trump administration if it does not draft a comprehensive grizzly bear recovery plan encompassing much of the West.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed its notice April 10 with the U.S. Department of Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service saying they are violating the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to update the 1993 federal grizzly bear recovery plan, failing to pursue further recovery and failing to prepare a timely five-year status review of the bears.

The notice gives the government 60 days to correct its violations before the Center seeks injunctive and declaratory relief in federal court.

The 1993 plan addressed grizzly recovery in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and identified several areas for potential recovery, including the North Cascades of Washington.

The notice cites the Center’s 2014 petition asking that the plan be updated to include “all significant remaining areas of suitable habitat across the grizzly bear’s native range in the western U.S.”

The petition identified 110,000 square miles of potential habitat, including the Selway-Bitteroot region in Idaho and Montana, Utah’s Uinta Mountains, California’s Sierra Nevada and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The bear’s historic range was from the high Arctic to the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico and from the West Coast to the Great Plains, the Center says. It notes that in 2011 USFWS said potential habitat that should be evaluated included southern Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, California, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

If such a broad area was included in a new recovery plan, it would be opposed by most ranching and farming groups across the West and would keep grizzlies listed as endangered indefinitely as total recovery could probably never be achieved, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

USFWS denied the Center’s petition in 2014 and moved toward delisting the bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. That occurred in 2017.

On Sept. 24, 2018, a federal district judge in Missoula, Mont., reinstated the listing. The ruling nullified limited grizzly bear hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho.

The ruling has been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the U.S. Department of Justice and Wyoming. Supporting the appeal are Montana, Idaho, Safari Club International, National Rifle Association, Sportsmen’s Alliance Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Mountain States Legal Foundation.

MSLF represents Wyoming Stock Growers, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation and Wyoming rancher Charles C. Price and W. & M. Thoman Ranches.

Cody J. Wisniewski, MSLF attorney, said the ESA does not require a species be restored to all its historic range. He said the Center wants to impose its plan and not listen to the science the government is using.

“It really is unfortunate because ranchers, associations and the states worked for years to restore the bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. That was done. It was a success story and delisting was warranted,” Wisniewski said.

Ranchers have to live with the grizzly bears slaughtering sheep and cattle, he said.

A Thoman ranch hand had to be airlifted to a hospital after a grizzly mauled him. He investigated a noise near a flock of sheep several years ago and was attacked, Wisniewski said.

“Grizzlies take out whole flocks of sheep and leave them dead. They don’t eat them. It’s training for their young,” he said.

On March 23, 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke in Sedro Woolley, Wash., in favor of grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades. Efforts to do so were opposed by ranchers, the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. The recovery plan was sidelined by the end of the year.

Central Washington field reporter

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