A federal judge threw out the national grizzly bear recovery plan in a decision that will affect the Selkirk bear population of North Idaho and Eastern Washington.
The ruling says “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t come up with a way to measure if the population is increasing, decreasing or stable,” said Doug Honnold, staff attorney with the Sierra Club Legal Defense fund.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, of Washington, D.C., also ruled the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t come up with a reliable way of judging whether there is adequate grizzly habitat.
The Fish and Wildlife Service now has to rebuild the grizzly recovery plan, Honnold said.
It’s unclear what the rulings will mean on the ground. The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday wasn’t ready to comment on the case. But it’s likely that more logging roads will be closed or not built.
“Putting logging roads in grizzly bear habitat and leaving them open for hunters is asking for trouble” because it makes it too easy for bear-human conflicts, said Chris Bessler, of the Selkirk Priest Basin Association. “I think road closures need to be used to greater effect in managing grizzly bear habitat.”
Freidman also ruled on two other grizzly bear suits, one of which challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service evaluation of the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak populations.
In the Selkirks, the judge ruled the federal agency didn’t acknowledge the increasing toll poaching takes on the tiny grizzly population, said David Hunt of Coeur d’Alene, who joined several environmental groups in filing the suit.
“The population is gravely endangered and the judge’s ruling is a sign of hope of keeping the population from going extinct,” Hunt said.
Mark Solomon of the Inland Empire Public Lands Council suggests that the rulings will increase the importance of reintroducing grizzlies in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. It also raises questions about whether that should be an experimental population - if so, bears that kill livestock could be shot - or whether the population should be fully protected.
U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth is vehemently opposed to that reintroduction. She also questions whether grizzlies originally occupied that stretch of country, though Lewis and Clark reported killing six there in the early 1800s.
Overall, the rulings will make it harder for the Fish and Wildlife Service to take the Yellowstone grizzlies off the Endangered Species list, attorneys say.
“The Fish and Wildlife service has been trumpeting recovery when we have roughly as many bears in Yellowstone now as we did at the time of listing in 1975,” Honnold said.
The ruling also affects grizzly recovery in Washington’s North Cascades.
Some argue the fate of the bear is important for other reasons. “Habitat that can’t support grizzly bears won’t be able to support other species for long,” said Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League.
“That goes for bison, elk, antelope, salmon, trout … and people.”