Grizzly Bears Could Be Back in the Bitterroot Mountains Soon
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is telling a federal judge it will proceed with plans for formally bring grizzlies back to the Bitterroot Range, although it will take another 4-years to meet that goal.
That position developed in the last few days, as the agency responded to the latest lawsuit questioning why the big bears haven't already been restored to the mountains that span the Idaho-Montana border.
Last November, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and other groups challenged the FWS, and the State of Idaho, saying wildlife managers hadn't kept their timeline for bringing grizzlies to the Bitterroots under the management plan that was first released in 2000. And in March, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy agreed, faulting the agency for delaying the grizzly re-introduction.
Friday, USFWS filed a brief in court committing to the Bitterroot grizzlies
The agency attorneys told Molloy there had been a "change in circumstances" because some bears from other areas, like the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems have begun to travel through the Bitterroot regularly. FWS said that means the agency must do another "scoping" effort, to gauge public support, ideas, and concerns about having the grizzlies in the new range.
In recent years, there have been new reports of bears in the area, even down into the floor of the Bitterroot Valley. Last year, two young grizzlies were trapped and removed after spending time around ranches and homes in the north end of the valley. And a few years ago, a grizzly was trapped after coming around the golf course north of Stevensville.
Grizzlies could be back in Bitterroot in just over 4 years
If the timing goes as outlined, FWS and its partners, which include the Nez Perce Tribe, and wildlife managers in Idaho and Montana, should have a plan ready in the fall of 2026.
The ruling and latest timeline will be on the agenda for discussion at this week's virtual meeting of the Bitterroot Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.