by Jimm Mann, The Daily Inter Lake
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missoula seeking to “uplist” the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population from “threatened” to “endangered.”
The group is challenging a decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last November finding that the uplisting is warranted but precluded from happening. The agency made a similar decision in 1993.
The lawsuit also challenges the agency’s failure to designate critical habitat for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear.
“The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population has been warranted and waiting for uplisting to endangered status for over 20 years, since 1993,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the alliance.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has also never designated critical habitat for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear even though a published scientific journal article found that species with critical habitat for two or more years were more than twice as likely to have an improving population trend … and less than half as likely to be declining … as species without.”
The federal wildlife agency has maintained that a critical habitat designation is not required for a population that was listed in 1975, which was before the Endangered Species Act was amended to mandate critical habitat at the same time at the same that a listing occurs.
Service officials have maintained that an “endangered” designation wouldn’t make any practical difference in the efforts directed at attempting to recover the population. Those efforts in recent years have included augmenting the population with bears transplanted from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to the east.
Garrity contends that an uplisting would require a critical habitat designation.
He pointed out that the recovery target for the Cabinet-Yaak population is 100 bears, but a recent genetic-based population survey found that the population is less than half of that.
“In addition to the below viable population estimate, these bears are also failing to meet all recovery targets,” Garrity said. “They are failing to meet the targets for the number of females with cubs, the human-caused mortality limit, the female human-caused mortality limit and the target for distribution of females with young.”