Michael Garrity, (406)459-5936
Mike Bader, 9406)721-4835
Plan’s Area is Too Small and Failure to Protect Linkages Leaves the Population Isolated
MISSOULA—In comments submitted Friday, the Missoula-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies challenged the U.S. Forest Service proposed alternative for the Forest Plan Amendments for Grizzly Bear Conservation for the Greater Yellowstone Area National Forests. The Plan amendments, seen as a prerequisite for de-listing of the
threatened grizzly bear, currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, cover six national forests.
“In the rush to declare the Yellowstone grizzly as an Endangered Species success story, 20 years of progress is being flushed down the drain,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
“We feel that the proposed action, as outlined in Alternative 2, is insufficient in scope, and lacks several elements crucial to grizzly bear survival and recovery,” wrote Garrity. “Moreover, Alternative 2 would allow far too much development activity and its provisions allow for net losses of secure bear habitat over time, leading to a permanently shrinking habitat base for a threatened and isolated grizzly bear population, a classic prescription for eventual extinction.”
The Alliance voiced its support for Alternative 4, with several important amendments. Chief among these is the immediate need to protect habitat linkages to provide for connectivity of the presently isolated Yellowstone population with those in other areas of the Northern Rockies, including the Northern Continental Divide area centered around Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
In the original 1975 listing of the grizzly, the government stated isolation of the Yellowstone population as a primary cause for concern and reason for threatened species status. Many scientific studies make it clear that connectivity is one of the primary issues affecting the survivability of the Yellowstone population. Scientific
analyses have shown conclusively that the grizzly bear population in the greater Yellowstone area cannot be sustained indefinitely as an isolated population. Without linkage, the Yellowstone grizzly bear cannot be considered recovered.
The Alliance also takes issue with the government’s definition of the Conservation Area for grizzly bears, coinciding with the Recovery Zone. The smaller area does not recognize the recent geographic expansion of grizzly bear range in northwest Wyoming and southwest Montana as being vital indicators of recovery. In fact, the government area only covers approximately half of the occupied grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone region. By leaving these large areas of habitat exempt from protective standards, recent population gains may likely be reversed and the population may become even further isolated. Even within the Primary Conservation Area, the Forest Service proposal would allow permanent losses of currently secure grizzly bear habitat.
The Alliance is also opposed to resumption of hunting seasons for grizzly bears at this time. A spatial analysis covering 40 years of grizzly bear mortality data in the greater Yellowstone area found that resumption of grizzly bear hunting could have negative effects on the population by converting currently source habitat areas into sink areas, with new concentrations of mortalities in currently secure backcountry areas.
In the written comments the Alliance takes issue with the economic analysis in Chapter 3, stating the analysis of Alternative 4 is biased and one-sided, accounting only for costs without discussing or assessing benefits.
“A fair and balanced analysis of costs and benefits would show that there will be significant net benefits to the public as a result of implementing Alternative 4. If 1,900 miles of roads will eventually be reclaimed under Alternative 4, then many more high-paying jobs can be created through restoration and road obliteration than through logging these high-elevation, slow-growth areas,” said Garrity. “The Forest Service could create a lot more jobs and save taxpayers a lot of money by restoring this area rather than building even more roads and money losing timber sales in this critical grizzly bear habitat.”