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Associated Press Groups say grizzly bear habitat threatened

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Eight environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Forest Service over oil and gas leases in Wyoming's Shoshone National Forest that they contend threaten grizzly bear habitat.

The groups challenged three oil and gas leases they say have not been analyzed for their impact on the bears and other wildlife.

The leases are located outside of a designated grizzly bear recovery zone, but the conservationists contend the government should do more to protect bears wherever they reside.

The lawsuit accuses the Forest Service of failing to first study whether development will damage the environment.

"The Forest Service has adopted a 'lease now, examine later' policy," said Dan Heilig, executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "Nobody in their right mind would sign away the right to their home and then say, 'We'll work out the details later.' "

Harmful development for grizzly bears includes pipeline, roads and construction of well pads, seismic blasting and low-altitude reconnaissance flights, the groups say.

Forest Service wildlife biologist Mark Hinschberger said any development would be short-lived because the formations are shallow. Drilling could displace bears, but only temporarily.

"I don't know if there'd be much long-term impacts," he said. "There's always a chance bears using a portion of the area could avoid those areas only because of the noise."

Two of the leases total 1,776 acres at southern end of the Absaroka Mountains northwest of Dubois. The third consists of 1,760 farther to the northeast.

The suit was filed in Washington, D.C.

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