Great News for Grizzly Bear Recovery

 Grizzly bear north of Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone. Photo: Jim Peaco, National Park Service.

Of all the remaining unoccupied grizzly bear habitat in the lower 48 States, the enormous Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and adjacent areas have the best potential for grizzly bear recovery.  We are thrilled to announce that, in response to our recent win in federal court, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just announced it would write a brand new Environmental Impact Statement and take action to restore grizzlies to this area after 23 years of stalling.  This is tremendously good news for the nation’s grizzly bear recovery effort.

As the Fish and Wildlife Service finally conceded in its response to the federal court order we won: “Because of the change in circumstances arising from individual bears dispersing within the Bitterroot Ecosystem with greater regularity, the Service plans to take a fresh look at its strategy for supporting restoration of grizzly bears to the Bitterroot Ecosystem.”

We’re very happy the Fish and Wildlife Service has committed to initiating a whole new National Environmental Policy Act process. That will include an open and transparent process, including public review and comment, to produce a Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement and a new Record of Decision, rather than supplementing the outdated, never-implemented decision from two decades ago.


In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Record of Decision to (1) establish the Bitterroot Grizzly Recovery Area, (2) form a committee to recommend land use management standards for the bears, (3) implement an information campaign to prepare the public for the presence of grizzly bears in the area, and (4) release a minimum of 25 grizzly bears into the Recovery Area over a period of five years as an “experimental non-essential population.”

In violation of the law, the agency never implemented that Decision. Two decades passed without recovery actions by the agency. Even worse, the agency actually trapped and removed grizzlies that were naturally repopulating the area.

We sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, and we won a federal court order directing the agency to restart its efforts on grizzly bear recovery in this region.

Vital Habitat Essential to Recovering Grizzly Bears

One of the primary reasons grizzly recovery is essential in this area is because the Selway-Bitterroot is the vital connecting corridor between the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Northern Continental Divide and Yellowstone grizzly populations.  Connecting those populations provides the genetic interchange necessary to prevent inbreeding and ensure the long-term survival of the bears, which will eventually lead to true recovery and lawful removal from the Endangered Species List.

Public Process Starts This Winter

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to open the public “scoping” process this winter to solicit public and scientific comment and proposals for the range of possible actions for Selway-Bitterroot grizzly bears.

It’s neither cheap nor easy to challenge the federal government in court. As a small non-profit, all the odds are stacked against us and we simply cannot match the federal government’s unlimited resources and dozens of lawyers and legal assistants.  But we find the best lawyers and they work overtime for us to fight for the Big Wild.  Our incredible, one-of-a-kind victory in this case provides the best chance at full recovery of grizzly bears – with one connected population – in the Lower 48 states.  We sincerely thank all of our supporters for helping us get this critical work done, and if you are not yet a supporter, please join us so we can continue filing and winning these hard-hitting, far-reaching lawsuits.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.