Unless they make it by their own devices, grizzly bears likely won't return to the Bitterroot Mountains anytime soon.
On June 20, Interior Secretary Gale Norton set aside a Clinton-era plan to reintroduce the bears to the wilderness of central Idaho and western Montana. Under the old plan, grizzly recovery would have been managed by a unique committee of scientists and citizens appointed by the governors of Idaho and Montana and the Nez Perce Tribe (HCN, 12/4/00: Grizzlies invited back to the Bitterroot). But reintroduction is not popular with many in the West, the secretary said, "and building support from state leaders is an important element to any potential partnership of this size and scope."
Most notably, Norton's proposal reflected her determination to cooperate with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican who sued to stop the plan two days before President Bush took office last January.
"Massive, flesh-eating carnivores," Kempthorne says, have no place in his state.
Norton plans to resolve the lawsuit - and Kempthorne's complaint - by taking public comment until mid-August, and then making a final decision.
Conservationists, who worked for six years with timber-industry officials to write the reintroduction plan previously in place, promise to fight back.
"It's painful. This is a good plan," says Tom France, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula and a former HCN board member. Not only did the secretary "strike a blow at grizzly recovery," he says, "but at the whole effort of finding compromises and common-sense solutions to endangered species management."
Copyright © 2001 HCN and Sherry Devlin