A two-month battle between environmentalists and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials over the newly released Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan may end up in court.
26, three environmental groups, the Fund for Animals, the
Colorado-based Biodiversity Legal Foundation, and the Montana-based
Swan View Coalition, gave 60-days' notice to the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service that they intend to sue because the plan violates
the Endangered Species Act.
They say the plan
fails to regulate development in grizzly habitat, uses an
inaccurate population monitoring system, sets minimum population
levels to drop too low and sets maximum mortality rates too high.
The plan "is not a blueprint for recovery, but
a prescription for extinction," says Wayne Pacelle, national
director of the Fund for Animals, a 250,000-member group based in
Last December, the government released
its plan to bring back self-sustaining populations of the grizzly
across 38,000 square miles in five Western states (HCN,
In January, 20 independent
scientists, including grizzly bear experts Lance Craighead, Charles
Jonkel and Lee Metzgar, asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to
withdraw the plan. Regional directors of the Greater Yellowstone
Coalition, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and Wilderness
Society also asked Babbitt and Mollie Beattie, director of the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, to rescind the plan.
In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Interagency
Grizzly Bear Committee wrote a 14-page letter to Babbitt. "This
plan wasn't developed in a fog," says Chris Servheen, grizzly
coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and lead author
of the letter. "We've tried to minimize assumptions and have spent
considerable time and effort coming up with our methods."
Yet Eric Glitzenstein, the lawyer representing
the three environmental groups, says the plan's population
monitoring system, based on annual sightings of female bears with
cubs, doesn't accurately show how the bears are doing. Glitzenstein
says the plan allows bears to be killed by humans at twice the rate
the Fish and Wildlife Service's internal data reveals is
appropriate. He also argues that the plan sets minimum population
standards below the estimated population of bears in 1975, when the
grizzly was listed as threatened.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service is playing games with numbers in order to expedite the
premature delisting of the grizzly bear," charges Keith Hammer,
director of the Swan View
that this sky-is-falling routine is being played out by the
conservation community," responds Chris Servheen. The plan has
distribution criteria which could require hundreds more bears than
minimum population standards alone, he points out. Servheen also
says the number of bears known to be killed by humans has dropped
steadily in the Northern Continental Divide and Yellowstone
recovery zones since conservation efforts began in 1981, and is
already well below the 4 percent mortality allowed in the plan.
"Our goal is zero percent mortality (from humans)."
Servheen agrees that the female-with-cubs
monitoring system is not completely accurate, but says alternative
methods "- such as trapping bears or monitoring the population
indirectly by the size and quality of habitat - also have serious
drawbacks. "What else can we do?" he asks. "No one has come up with
a better method."
As for the environmentalists'
charge that the Fish and Wildlife Service is rushing to get the
bear off the endangered species list, Servheen says the recovery
plan does not delist the bear. The agency has begun the delisting
process only in the Northern Continental Divide recovery zone,
which includes Glacier National Park, but the process will take
many years, he says.
trying to get the bear back on its feet, but we will never be able
to walk away," Servheen says. "Every human action will have to be
seriously considered as to its effect on bears."
But critics say the agency hasn't been vigilant
enough in stopping human activities in grizzly bear habitat, and
that the recovery plan will do little to change
Servheen says the recovery plan is not
supposed to specify how grizzly habitat should be managed. Grizzly
bear guidelines and interagency consultation with the Fish and
Wildlife Service protect bear habitat on a forest-by-forest
Earlier this month, he notes, the Fish
and Wildlife Service pressured the Forest Service into closing and
obliterating 430 miles of road and reducing timber sales by 15
million board-feet on Idaho's Targhee National
But the Forest Service didn't consult
with the Fish and Wildlife Service over the management of the
Targhee until after they were sued by 11 environmental
organizations, says Louisa Willcox, program director for the
Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
The Targhee shows
that habitat must be protected through the recovery plan, not just
individual forest plans, she adds. More than 54 square miles of
bear habitat in the Targhee was clearcut in the 1980s because the
1981 recovery plan lacked any specific protection measures, she
Environmentalists say that the new plan
also allows logging and development to cut off potential
bear-migration routes between recovery zones.
While it would be ideal to set up corridors linking the recovery
zones, Servheen says, bears don't seem to move between zones now.
The recovery plan calls for a five-year study to examine the
possibility of establishing corridors, and the Fish and Wildife
Service has asked other agencies to minimize development in these
areas during the study.
That's not enough, says
Dave Gaillard, bear coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone
Coalition. "We're in a situation where (the Fish and Wildlife
Service) could review the habitat and lose it at the same time."
Not all environmental groups think the plan
does more harm than good. Representatives from the National
Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Wyoming Wildlife
Federation and others wrote a short letter to Babbitt and Beattie
on Feb. 1, asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to aggressively
implement the plan.
Two strong improvements in
the current plan over the 1981 version, the letter says, are the
reintroduction of Canadian grizzlies into the Bitterroot-Selway
recovery zone, and habitat restoration in the North Cascades
For more information about the lawsuit,
contact D.J. Schubert, the Fund for Animals, 850 Sligo Ave., Suite
300, Silver Spring, MD 20910 (301/585-2591). For information about
the recovery plan, contact Chris Servheen, USFWS, NS312, University
of Montana, Missoula, MT 59821 (406/329-3223).
" Bryan Foster, HCN
Craig Welch, a
reporter with the Jackson Hole Guide, contributed to this