MISSOULA, Mont.— In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a status report on the threats facing grizzly bears in the lower 48 states that declines to evaluate reintroduction proposals for areas of the species’ historical range.
In a species status assessment accompanying the report, the Service briefly considered reintroduction of grizzly bears in the San Juans and Sierra Nevadas. However, the agency determined that adequate suitable habitat exists in these areas but declined to suggest reintroduction because the areas are far from existing grizzly bear populations.
The Service also declined to provide recommendations on updating its 25-year-old grizzly recovery plan, despite recognizing nearly 10 years ago that it was scientifically outdated.
“It’s frustrating that federal officials failed to provide specific and updated recovery recommendations in this long-overdue analysis of the grizzly’s bear’s progress toward recovery,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center. “Even after a decade of delay, the Service still failed to take a thoughtful look at what’s required for real grizzly recovery in the lower 48 states.”
The status report recommends that the grizzly bear retain its status as a threatened species, although it also concludes that populations in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems have “high resiliency.” Bears in the Selkirk Ecosystem have only moderate resiliency, and Cabinet-Yaak bears have low resiliency.
The report states that bears in the Bitterroot and North Cascades recovery zones are functionally extirpated, with no resident grizzly bear populations, and concludes that viability of the grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states may rely on reoccupation of the Bitterroot and North Cascades ecosystems.
Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975. The Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a status review for listed species at least once every five years — yet the last status review for grizzlies was published nearly 10 years ago, in 2011.
“This disappointing report reflects the Service’s unambitious approach to bear recovery,” said Zaccardi. “We’re going to keep pushing for a more comprehensive federal strategy, so that the grizzly bears can once again roam wild places like the North Cascades and other areas of their historical range.”