NCDE grizzly delisting won’t come this year

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A grizzly bear feeds on huckleberries in Glacier National Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service won’t propose delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem this year.

The Service will delay any decision until later this month, when it will determine whether or not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that put grizzly bears back on the endangered species list in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, grizzly bear recovery coordinator Hilary Cooley said last week.

The deadline to appeal is Dec. 20, Cooley noted.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ruled in September that the Service was arbitrary and capricious in delisting Yellowstone’s bears, as it did not take into account connectivity of bear populations in the region.

Currently there is little, if any connectivity between the Northern Continental Divide bears and the Yellowstone bears.

His ruling found that the Service can’t delist isolated populations piecemeal without taking into account the impact on other populations.

There’s about 1,000 bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which covers a swath of land from the Canada border to Missoula along the Continental Divide. The Yellowstone population is smaller, with about 750 bears covering a mass of lands around and in Yellowstone National Park.

The lawsuit was brought by the Crow Tribe after bears were delisted and both Wyoming and Idaho announced trophy hunts.

One way to connect the two populations would be to have established grizzly populations in the Selway-Bitteroot along the Montana-Idaho border. Currently, there are no established grizzly bear populations in that region, even though it has millions of acres of wilderness.

Cooley noted that the Service in 1999 did an environmental impact statement to reintroduce grizzlies into the region, but it was never implemented.

Today, with the controversy surrounding bears, the Service “would probably have to do the EIS again,” Cooley noted.

Having said that, she said there’s no plan to do so.

“I think the bears will get there on their own,” she said.

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