Trouble for grizzly bear recovery plan

 

After a four-year, $250,000 effort, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its draft plan for restoring grizzly bears in western Montana and central Idaho. Now, Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, want to cut the project off at the knees.

Hailed by many as a groundbreaking compromise between the timber industry, environmentalists and organized labor, the agency's environmental analysis proposes four options for grizzly bear recovery in the Selway-Bitterroot Ecosystem (HCN, 5/13/96). The preferred alternative proposes introducing the bears as a "nonessential experimental population" in some 6,000 square miles of wilderness. That means the bears could be killed if they are caught killing livestock or threatening humans.

A governor-appointed management committee, comprised of citizens from both states, would oversee the bears' restoration and review damage to livestock and other conflicts as cases occur. The committee is unusual, says the National Wildlife Federation's Mike Roy, because it "increases authority and responsibility of local people."

Other options in the assessment include restoring grizzlies as fully protected endangered species, no federal reintroduction, and active prevention of grizzly bear recovery. "We spent a lot of time putting this (EIS) together so people would have the benefits of all the information," says the agency's grizzly bear recovery coordinator, Chris Servheen. "We want people to read it, think about it and let us know how they feel."

Burns and Craig say the 440-page draft, Grizzly Bear Recovery in the Selway-Bitterroot Ecosystem, is weak on science. In an amendment to the Department of the Interior's appropriations bill, they want to cut the environmental review process's budget to $75,000. Matt Raymond, spokesman for Sen. Burns, says the money would go toward a bear census and continued public comment. "We want to put the brakes on (recovery) until the science is there," Raymond says.

If the senators succeed, grizzly recovery will be stalled at least a year. Hank Fischer, Defenders of Wildlife's Northern Rockies representative and a participant in the collaboration that led to the preferred alternative, calls the amendment a bad resource policy. "Simply saying "no" without offering suggestions just cripples any kind of public process by which we might find a solution," he says.

* Emily Miller, HCN intern

You can ...

* Write comments until Oct. 9 to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bitterroot Grizzly Bear EIS, P.O. Box 5127, Missoula, MT 59806, or,

* Attend one of six public hearings in Idaho and Montana planned for August, or,

* Contact Sen. Burns, 202/224-2644 or Sen. Craig, 202/224-2752.

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