Judge orders new work on Bitterroot grizzly plan

A plan to transplant grizzly bears into the Bitterroot Mountains that’s been stalled for 22 years must be actively reconsidered, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

“Because the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service has unreasonably delayed in implementing its 2000 Record of Decision and Final Rule regarding grizzly bears and failed to conduct a supplemental EIS (environmental impact statement) based on the changed circumstances, plaintiffs succeed,” U.S. District Judge Don Molloy wrote in his March 15 opinion in Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystem Alliance v. FWS and Idaho. Molloy ordered FWS to present a plan for updating the Bitterroot grizzly project by April 15, or he would impose a timeline himself.

The case stems from an effort in the 1990s to create an experimental population of grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem — one of six recovery areas designated as grizzly habitat under the Endangered Species Act protection plan. While the 25,140-square-mile expanse of the Bitterroots along the Montana-Idaho border and an extensive roadless and wilderness complex farther west in Idaho were historic grizzly strongholds, the entire population was killed off in the early 20th century.

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