Feds Decline to Upgrade Protections for Grizzly Bears in Cabinet-Yaak

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a decision in the Federal Register on Dec. 5

By Beacon Staff
Photo U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Terry Tollefsbol, NPS

Federal wildlife officials last week declined to upgrade protections for a small population of grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage in Northwest Montana, sparking outcry from a conservation organization that claims the population is nearing extinction.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a decision in the Federal Register on Dec. 5 that said grizzlies living in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem are stable and likely to reach a recovery goal of 100 without changing their status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. There are an estimated 37 to 42 grizzlies in the remote 3,750-square-mile area in the mountains above Eureka, Libby, Trout Creek, Yaak and Troy. A previous population study showed the population was declining at an annual rate of roughly 0.8 percent and that the percentage of bears unlawfully or accidentally killed each year by humans had tripled in recent years.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a conservation organization that previously sued the agency seeking heightened restrictions on logging and road construction in the area, announced that it would file a 60 day notice of intent to sue to challenge the agency’s decision.

“In line with the demands of our members and constituents, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies will not allow the federal government to write off this grizzly bear population,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the organization. “The Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear will not go extinct on our watch.”

Garrity noted that the agency had previously determined that the Cabinet-Yaak population warranted an upgraded listing to an endangered status.

“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,” Garrity said.

The Cabinet-Yaak area is one of six ecosystems in the continental United States where the federal government is committed to restoring grizzly bears, currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.