The Center for Biological Diversity wants to restart efforts to transplant grizzly bears into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness along the Montana-Idaho border.
The national environmental group formally petitioned Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe on Thursday to craft a new rule reintroducing the bears.
The 16 million-acre area is one of six overseen by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and the only one with no resident grizzlies.
“Grizzly bears live in less than 4 percent of their historic range and need to be reintroduced into the Selway-Bitterroot to have any shot at real recovery,” CBD staff attorney Andrea Santarsiere said in an email. “The Service has repeatedly committed to reestablishing a grizzly bear population in this region. We’re just asking them to move forward with that commitment.”
FWS grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said the area was already approved for an experimental population of grizzlies with an initial reintroduction of 25 bears. That plan was developed in 1996, but shelved in 2001.
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“The funding has never been available to do it,” Servheen said. “It doesn’t expire or need renewal, and it’s never been withdrawn. But you can’t just drop money on something and it happens.”
Santarsiere said the state and federal wildlife agencies shouldn’t be working on delisting grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act before they re-establish a grizzly population in the Selway-Bitterroot.
She argued the area would help link bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems, as well as the smaller Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and North Cascades ecosystems.
Roughly 2,000 grizzlies now live in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide areas, with around 100 more across the smaller areas. Grizzlies have been seen passing through the Selway-Bitterroot, but none have been confirmed as permanent residents.