HELENA — U.S. Fish and Wildlife is beginning the process to evaluate the restoration of grizzly bears to the Bitterroot ecosystem, located in west central Montana and east central Idaho.
On Wednesday, the agency announced a public scoping period to consider options for restoring grizzly populations and looking into the environmental impacts.
The public, states, Tribes, the scientific community, and other stakeholders are encouraged to review the scoping notice and provide valuable input to shape the project’s scope in its early stages.
There has been an increase in grizzly sightings within the Bitterroot ecosystem in recent years. However, federal officials say there is no established population, defined as having two or more breeding females or one female with two consecutive litters, in the recovery zone.
Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S. Montana and Idaho elected leaders have been pushing to get the bears delisted.
Government efforts to create an experimental population of grizzlies in the itterroot ecosystem stem back to the 1990s. In 2000, U.S. Fish and Wildlife outlined plans for reintroduction of the bears to the Bitterroot ecosystem, but no subsequent steps were taken in the two decades following.
In March of 2023, Montana U.S. District Judge Don Molloy ruled U.S. Fish and Wildlife had “unreasonably delayed in implementing its 2000 Record of Decision and Final Rule regarding grizzly bears and failed to conduct a supplemental EIS.”
The new grizzly bear environmental impact statement 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.
As part of this process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will identify several actions to consider, including a no-action alternative.
The Service is initiating a 60-day public comment period to gather input on the scope of the EIS beginning January 18, 2024, through March 18, 2024; comments can be submitted through www.regulations.gov using docket number FWS-R6-ES-2023-0203.
Additionally, the Service is hosting a series of virtual public information sessions during which the public can learn more about this process. These meetings are for informational purposes only. Official comments should be submitted through www.regulations.gov.