A federal judge in Montana signed an order this week requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review the status of grizzly bears by March 2021.
The order resolves one claim in the Center for Biological Diversity’s ongoing lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s failure to update the federal recovery plan for grizzly bears. The recovery plan is now more than 25 years old and, says the lawsuit, does not reflect current science.
The judge’s order does not fully resolve the June lawsuit, which also calls for an update to the government’s recovery plan for grizzlies, a step the Center says could prompt the agency to look at a broader plan for recovering bears in the lower 48 states, including Oregon and Washington.
“Grizzlies in the lower 48 still face an uphill battle to recovery,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center. “I really hope this review will convince the Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit the idea of reintroducing grizzly bears in more areas of their historic range, as the agency proposed in its last status review.”
Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975. The Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare a status review for listed species at least once every five years — yet the last status review for grizzlies was published more than eight years ago, in 2011.
In that status review, the Service acknowledged that the 1993 recovery plan no longer reflected best available science and needed to be updated to consider additional recovery areas. The Center’s lawsuit asks the court to force the agency to update the outdated plan and evaluate the need to pursue grizzly bear recovery in additional areas where suitable habitat exists.
“It’s frustrating that we have to sue the Trump administration again and again to force it to follow the law,” Santarsiere said. “We look forward to receiving an updated recovery plan that can serve as a step toward fully recovering grizzly bears in the wild.”
The Center’s complaint says:
“The Service listed grizzly bears in the lower 48 states as “threatened” under the ESA over forty years ago. The Service prepared a grizzly bear recovery plan in 1982 with a revision in 1993 and supplements thereafter. In 2011, the Service released a five-year status review for the grizzly bear, in which the agency found that the 1993 Recovery Plan was no longer based upon the best available science and needed to be updated. The Service specifically noted that the agency must evaluate other areas of the grizzly bear’s historic range in the lower 48 states to determine their habitat suitability for grizzly bear recovery, including historic habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon, and southern Washington. But the Service never updated the Plan in the manner that the agency itself had said was necessary.”
“On June 18, 2014, the Center filed a petition asking the Service to amend the 1993 Recovery Plan to include updated biological information and consider other significant areas of suitable habitat across the grizzly bear’s historic range in the western United States. As explained below, the Service unreasonably denied the Center’s petition.
“Through this litigation, the Center asks the Court for an order providing deadlines for the Service to prepare a timely five-year status review for the grizzly bear, update the recovery plan, and evaluate the need to pursue grizzly bear recovery in additional areas.”
In July, USFWS revised the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to again include grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as part of the existing listing for grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Ac. The action was taken to comply with a September 24, 2018, Montana District Court order.
Grizzly bears in the United States and outside of Alaska are primarily found in six ecosystems: the Greater Yellowstone, the Northern Cascades, the Bitterroot, the Northern Continental Divide, and the Cabinet-Yaak.
On June 30, 2017, the Service announced the establishment of a distinct population segment of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears, determined that those bears no longer met the definition of threatened, and removed that distinct population segment from the List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. Grizzly bears found in the five other ecosystems remained protected.
Six lawsuits challenging the Service’s decision were filed in federal courts in Missoula, Montana and Chicago, Illinois.
For more information visit the Service’s grizzly bear website.