The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release five grizzly bears a year for five years into a 5,785 square-mile area of the Selway-Bitterroot, Gospel Hump and Frank Church-River of No Return Wildernesses.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on grizzly bear recovery was released this week, two-and-a-half years after the draft EIS was published.
The USFWS ultimately wants to establish a total population of 280 grizzly bears from the 25 to be released. Reaching that target could take anywhere from 50 to 110 years.
In the first year of the recovery effort, possibly 2001 barring any lawsuits, the agency will launch a public education campaign to teach people how to conduct themselves in grizzly country. The USFWS also will prepare the area for the reintroduction of the bears by surveying places easily accessible by humans, including Paradise, the various wilderness airstrips and Lolo Pass. Those areas will be “sanitized” of dumpsters or other bear attractants.
Bears probably will not be released until June 2002. But that’s if all goes according to plan, which is unlikely. After a 30-day public comment period, which begins March 24, the final Record of Decision won’t be released until August, said Laird Robinson, a grizzly bear recovery coordinator in Missoula. That would rule out 2000 as the first year, since the decision would come too late in the year for agency officials to begin implementing the program. Next year would be designated year one, and 2002 would be the second year of the program, the year the bears would be released.
But grizzly bear recovery coordinators and other agency wildlife specialists predict that lawsuits or injunctions will be filed by one opposing group or another, which could take years to resolve.
A 15-member Citizens Management Committee also will be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior in consultation with the governors of Idaho and Montana and the Nez Perce tribe. The CMC, with recommendations from the Forest Service, will decide where, precisely, the bears would be released.
If and when bears are released, the recovered grizzlies will be taken from the Yellowstone ecosystem, northwest Montana and southeast British Columbia. They will be released at a time of year when food sources are abundant.
The EIS may be viewed at various public libraries in Montana, or on the web at: www.r6.fws.gov/ endspp/grizzly.