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Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly on the Ropes

Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly on the Ropes

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Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

Federal agency denies critical habitat for the imperiled

Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said, “Today the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published a “not warranted” finding in response to multiple public petitions requesting that the agency list the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear as an endangered species and designate critical habitat for the bear’s recovery.”

The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population is a small, isolated grizzly bear population in Northwest Montana that is on the brink of extinction. In 2011, the government completed a five year status review that gave this population the highest listing priority number available to it. In the review, the government found: “grizzly bears in the … [Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem] … are still warranted for endangered status because of small population size, isolation, and excessive human-caused mortality.”

Garrity said, “The ‘small population size’ was 42 bears. This estimate, which was based on modeling, was recently confirmed by an intensive and systematic DNA survey for Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, which found 42 definite bears. This small population size of 42 bears fails to meet the threshold for the minimum viable population required for recovery, which is at least 100 bears.”

Since 2008, the government’s population estimates in its annual Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear monitoring reports, which were based on models and extrapolations, dropped from 47 to 37 bears. (2008 monitoring report – 47 bears); (2009 monitoring report – 42 bears); (2010 monitoring report – 41 bears); (2011 monitoring report – 42 bears); (2012 monitoring report – 37 bears).

Garrity said, “The last five years of published monitoring reports document a 21% population decline. Additionally, the population is failing all recovery targets and the human-caused mortality rate has increased over three-fold from “0.71 mortalities per year from 1982–1998” to “2.5 mortalities per year from 1999–2012.”

Garrity said, “For over 20 years, the government has repeatedly found that the bear is warranted or listing as an endangered species, but the agency insisted that it was too busy to enact the protection, which would have come with protections for “critical habitat” for grizzly bears.”

“After waiting for over 20 years,” Garrity continued, “the Alliance for the Wild Rockies decided that enough was enough and filed a lawsuit against the government for “unreasonable delay.””

Garrity said, “Today, the day that the Alliance’s first brief was due in federal court the agency issued a last minute “not warranted” finding to attempt to moot this clearly meritorious lawsuit. The agency’s decision today is a transparent attempt to avoid accountability and avoid its responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to protect and recover endangered species regardless of the cost. This type of gamesmanship — attempting to play “administrative keep away” with necessary protections for an imperiled species — is unconscionable and significantly undermines public confidence in the government’s ability to do its job.”

“In line with the demands of our members and constituents,” Garrity concluded, “the Alliance for the Wild Rockies will not allow the federal government to write off this grizzly bear population. The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear will not go extinct on our watch. We will now be filing a 60 day notice of intent to sue to challenge the agency’s “not warranted” finding, a Freedom of Information Act request to seek the truth behind the agency’s motivation for the “not warranted” finding, and a new listing petition requesting that the agency list the bear as endangered and designate critical habitat.”

Original brief published here. (PDF)

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