Idaho seeks nationwide grizzly delisting
March 18, 2022 Updated Fri., March 18, 2022 at 6:25 a.m.
LEWISTON – Idaho Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are asking the federal government to remove grizzly bears in Idaho and the rest of the Lower 48 States from federal protection, arguing the bears were improperly listed as an endangered species in 1975.
According to a petition the state submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last Thursday, errors in the original listing, combined with a tangle of court rulings, administrative procedures and congressional tweaks, make it nearly impossible to meet recovery standards.
“Bureaucratic gridlock is keeping healthy grizzly populations on the threatened species list unnecessarily. When there’s no exit for healthy grizzly populations from the Endangered Species Act, it’s time to demand a reset,” Little said in a news release. “For decades, Idaho, our sister states, tribes, local governments – and especially our rural communities – have invested considerable resources in this effort, and they have shouldered much of the burden of rebuilding grizzly bear populations.”
Wyoming and Montana recently submitted more narrow petitions asking for grizzly bears to be removed from protection under the ESA. Wyoming wants the 1,000 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem near Yellowstone National Park to be delisted and Montana has asked that the estimated population of about 1,000 bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in and around Glacier National Park be delisted.
Idaho itself has few grizzly bears. Part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population spills across the state’s eastern edge and there are about 50 bears in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas of far northern Idaho. The Bitterroot Ecosystem Recovery Area in north central Idaho has no grizzly bears.
Ed Schriever, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the state’s delisting pitch is along procedural lines and aims for a “reset” of federal protections for the big bears. It argues that when the bears were given federal protection in 1975, the Fish and Wildlife Service improperly defined the area grizzlies would be protected as the Lower 48 States. The petition notes that grizzlies have never been found east of the Great Plains and large swaths of their historic range has been so developed that it is unable to support the bears.
A 1993 grizzly bear recovery plan recognized that problem and set the stage for the bears to be delisted based on numbers in certain recovery areas, such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The petition, however, says court rulings, often based on the way bears were originally listed, have prevented that from happening.
Yellowstone area grizzly bears were delisted in 2017 but a 2020 court ruling restored federal protections based on multiple factors including how it would affect bears outside of the recovery area.
“It’s time to actually define what you are listing and what it is that recovery looks like, that sets a path that lets the American people know how you get from Point A to Point B,” Schriever said.
Brad Smith of the Idaho Conservation League said his group is opposed to the state’s proposal. He said the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and Bitterroot recovery areas don’t have enough bears to be considered recovered and Idaho can’t be trusted to manage bears on its own. “If the state’s handling of wolf management is any indication of what they would do with grizzly bears then we don’t think the state can responsibly manage grizzly bears.”
Last year, the Idaho Legislature passed a law that eliminated hunting bag limits for wolves, allowed year-round trapping on private land and allowed the state’s Wolf Control Board to hire private contractors to kill wolves. Thus far, the change has not led to an increase in the number of wolves killed by hunters. Even so, the law prompted some environmental groups to ask the federal government to consider returning ESA protections for wolves.
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