Courts to Decide Grizzly’s Status After Talks Flop

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Federal courts will decide whether the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bears will regain endangered-species status after negotiations collapsed in two lawsuits over the issue.

Roughly 600 grizzlies live in the forests and mountains of the Yellowstone area, which includes portions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Federal biologists say the population has recovered from near extermination over the last several decades and can stand on its own.

But environmentalists argue grizzly food sources such as seeds from whitebark pine tree are diminishing because of global warming. They say the species remains at risk — and that only under the Endangered Species Act will it receive the urgent measures needed to protect its habitat.

Two lawsuits were filed against the government after the bear’s endangered status was lifted in 2007. Parties in the cases met in Missoula on Thursday to try to reach a settlement at the order of the judges overseeing the litigation.

The negotiations ended with neither side giving in, leaving the matter to the courts.

All of the parties involved in the case have presented their arguments to the judges in the two cases, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch in Boise, Idaho.

While the lawsuits drag on, the number of bears being killed in the wild has continued to rise in correlation with its population.

Last year, a record 48 bears were killed by humans, out of 79 total deaths that included eight cubs. At least 20 of those bears were killed by hunters who shot in self-defense or after mistaking the bears for other animals.

If the death rate stays high for a second consecutive year, that would trigger a review of the bear’s endangered status regardless of what happens with the lawsuits.