Wednesday, June 19, 2013

WWP offers reward in bear killing

Grizzly disappeared within federal sheep station

Express Staff Writer

    Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project has teamed with the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center in Montana to offer a $6,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the case of a grizzly bear apparently killed near the Idaho/Montana border last fall.
    Though bear 726’s body has not been found, a collar that had been attached to it by biologists was recovered from a stream on the federal Sheep Experimentation Station west of Yellowstone National Park in September. An investigator’s report stated that the collar appeared to have been deliberately hidden in the stream. Subsequent investigation determined that the bear’s last known location was in an area where government-owned sheep had been grazing.
    The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, created in 1915, is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. Its stated mission is “to develop integrated methods for increasing production efficiency of sheep and to simultaneously improve the sustainability of rangeland ecosystems.”
    The station, which now owns or leases more than 77,000 acres, has become a subject of controversy among environmental organizations. According to the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center’s website, the Centennial Mountains form “the most important wildlife connection” between the Greater Yellowstone area and the wildlands of central Idaho and beyond. The group calls the corridor “critical” for grizzly bears.
    “Unfortunately, the Agricultural Research Service … continues to graze thousands of domestic sheep in the heart of this critical wildlife corridor,” the website states.
    Western Watersheds Project has been involved in litigation to require the sheep station to conduct an environmental analysis of its operations. In a settlement reached in 2008, the Agricultural Research Service agreed to do so, and in 2011 released a draft environmental impact statement whose preferred alternative was to continue to graze sheep in the area. The EIS stated that there had been little or no conflict between grazing and grizzly bears.
    But Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project’s National Environmental Policy Act coordinator, said the two environmental organizations are urging an investigation into whether the bear was killed by anyone connected to the sheep station.
    “We don’t know who did this,” Cole said. “That’s why we want the information and are offering the money. If it were somebody with the sheep station who killed the bear, why wasn’t it reported? The implications of that are pretty serious.”
    Cole said Western Watersheds Project put up $1,000 of its own money and obtained $5,000 toward the reward from a private donor.

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