LEWISTON – Federal officials signaled Friday that they have rejected Idaho’s petition to strip Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states.
At the same time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated more modest proposals submitted by Wyoming and Montana merited closer examination. Officials from the agency will spend the next year further studying petitions from Idaho’s neighbors.
Montana asked the federal government that grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, a vast area in northwest Montana centered around Glacier National Park, be removed from the endangered species list. There are about 1,000 grizzly bears in the population. Likewise, Wyoming asked for the grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population, also about 1,000 strong, to be stripped of federal protections.
Idaho has far fewer grizzlies – about 50 in the northern tip of the state and a small fraction of the Yellowstone population in its southeastern coroner. But Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game submitted a petition last year seeking to remove ESA protections for grizzlies across the entire Lower 48 states, arguing the initial listing of the bears in 1975 was in error.
On Thursday, Little sent a letter to Interior Sec. Deb Haaland and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams that threatened to file a lawsuit if the agency didn’t act on its petition. The Fish and Wildlife Service published an advanced note in the Federal Register saying the Montana and Wyoming petitions may be warranted but Idaho’s was unconvincing.
“We also found that a petition to delist the grizzly bear in the lower-48 states on the basis of it not being a valid listable entity did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted; therefore, we will take no further action on that petition,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service note that will be published in full on Monday.