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For the week of Mar. 15 through Mar. 21, 2000

Grizzly reintroduction

Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness Area in central Idaho recommended site

"The governor, under no circumstances, favors grizzly reintroduction and, if need be, will fight it in court."

Mark Snider, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s press secretary

Express Staff Writer

The largest North American predator may soon return to central Idaho.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Thursday that recommends reintroduction of about 25 grizzly bears to the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness Area in central Idaho.

A small number of grizzly bears currently exist in Idaho along its eastern edge and in its northeastern corner.

According to Chris Servheen, Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery leader, the reintroduced bears will probably make it south of the Salmon River in "a couple decades."

Areas like the Stanley Basin, Servheen said in an interview, do not have lush enough habitat to sustain as many bears as northern Idaho. Exact numbers that areas like the Stanley Basin could sustain at this point would be purely speculative, he added.

The bears could be reintroduced to the Selway/Bitterroot in the summer of 2002, and possibly sooner, Servheen said.

Delisting the bears, meaning removing them from protection provided by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), would occur when there are between 280 and 300 bears in the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness Area.

Servheen said that will take close to 100 years, because the bears reproduce so slowly.

The only remaining obstacle to successful reintroduction is funding, he said. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently working out a potential budget.

The EIS proposes an innovative management strategy for the Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency that usually oversees management of reintroduced species by itself.

For the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Fish and Wildlife Service will share management authority for a listed species with a committee composed of Idaho and Montana citizens, representatives of state and federal wildlife agencies and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Members of the committee, seven from Idaho and five from Montana, would be appointed by each state’s governor.

By law, the committee must use the best available science to make decisions, and its actions must lead to recovery of the species, according to a press release from a coalition of western groups, including the national Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Intermountain Forest Association and Resource Organization on Timber Supply.

The coalition drafted the citizen management plan late in 1997, and submitted it to the Fish and Wildlife Service for consideration a month later.

In the draft EIS, completed in July 1998, the citizen management plan was cited as the preferred alternative for grizzly bear management in the wilderness.

"When we began this effort we were seeking a way to balance the interests of people who depend on the land for their livelihoods and recreation with the need to recover grizzlies under the ESA," Resource Organization on Timber Supply spokesman Bill Mulligan said in a prepared statement. "The citizen management plan does that."

The grizzly reintroduction EIS has been underway since 1995 and has cost about $500,000, Servheen said.

The final decision isn’t sitting well with some of Idaho’s politicians.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s press secretary, Mark Snider, said the governor is adamantly opposed to grizzly reintroduction.

"The governor, under no circumstances, favors grizzly reintroduction and, if need be, will fight it in court," Snider said.

Grizzly bears once ranged over western North America from Alaska to Mexico. There are now two populations in the contiguous United States, one based in Yellowstone National Park and one in northwest Montana. Those two populations consist of about 1,000 bears.

The bears reintroduced to Idaho would come from those and populations in British Columbia, according to Hank Fischer, a representative from Defenders of Wildlife who helped draft the citizen management plan.


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