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Idaho pushes for grizzly delisting

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | February 24, 2024 1:07 AM

BOISE — The state of Idaho is seeking court approval of a proposed settlement that would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final rule by Jan. 1, 2026, to revise or remove the current listing of “lower 48” grizzly bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

“Idaho and neighboring states have worked for more than 40 years in a broad-based effort to support and sustain healthy and reasonable grizzly populations in our states, but legal and bureaucratic gridlock has kept robust populations of grizzly bears unnecessarily under ESA protection,"  Gov. Brad Little said in a news release. "The settlement provides a path to escape regulations that are not necessary in Idaho."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a public scoping period to consider options for restoring grizzly bears to the Bitterroot ecosystem, one of the six identified grizzly bear recovery zones in the lower 48 states. 

"Although individual grizzly bears have been documented in the Bitterroot Ecosystem, no established population — defined as having two or more breeding females or one female with two consecutive litters — currently exists in this recovery zone," according to a Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S.

Grizzly bears are a subspecies of brown bear found in Alaska and Canada. The total grizzly bear population is estimated at over 60,000 bears, with about 2,000 living in the lower 48 in Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Montana.

While black bears are common in the Panhandle, grizzlies are most often observed in the Cabinet and Selkirk mountain ranges. It's estimated there are about 50 grizzly bears in North Idaho.

Because grizzly bears are federally protected in North Idaho, there is no hunting season.

Intentionally shooting a grizzly bear is a felony and may include up to $10,000 in civil penalties.

The grizzly bear restoration EIS in the Bitterroot Ecosystem will analyze alternatives for restoration by examining potential effects on the human environment, addressing management approaches for bear-human conflicts, assessing considerations for grizzly bear connectivity between recovery zones, and incorporating other relevant information regarding impacts, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

 As part of the process, the Service will identify several actions to consider, including a no-action alternative.

The Service opened a 60-day public comment period to gather input on the scope of the EIS beginning Jan. 18 through March 18, 2024; comments can be submitted through regulations.gov, docket number FWS-R6-ES-2023-0203.

Attorney General Raúl Labrador said the proposed settlement provides both a deadline and legal direction for Idaho "to avoid burdensome ESA regulations that are simply unnecessary for grizzly bear population success in our state."

“Idaho has shown that it’s quite capable of managing natural resources and wildlife populations without overreaching federal involvement," he said in the release.

The settlement stems from litigation over Idaho’s petition for grizzly bear delisting that was submitted in March 2022 and denied by the Fish and Wildlife Service in February 2023.

The proposed settlement does not guarantee delisting of all grizzly bears. However, the January 2026 deadline makes delisting grizzly bears in Idaho possible.