Idaho leaders plan to sue federal officials if the Interior Department does not remove grizzly bears in the lower 48 states from the Endangered Species Act list, according to a notification of intent filed Wednesday.
The document, signed by Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Attorney General Raul Labrador, makes clear that Idaho will file a lawsuit against Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams within 60 days if no changes are made.
“Idaho has consistently demonstrated leadership in species management, and we have never wavered from excessive federal government actions that significantly affect a variety of activities on the ground in our state,” Little said in a press release.
The notice comes after more than a year of petitions and threats of legal action from the state of Idaho regarding the protected bears. While Alaskan grizzly bears are not considered endangered, bears in the neighboring United States have been considered “threatened” since the 1970s, with brief removals from protection in 2007 and 2017.
The list applies to bears found in a swath from Idaho-Montana’s border with Canada through Idaho’s border with Wyoming. Officials have identified six recovery areas for species, including the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming; Selkirks in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington. Bitterroots in central Idaho and the Cabinet-Yaak region in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. At the time, officials estimated there were between 150 and 300 bears in the area.
Little petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service in April 2022 arguing that protected bears in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming do not constitute a “distinguished population segment” and therefore do not qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. His petition came shortly after Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon submitted their own petitions to the federal agency, though other governors’ petitions called on Fish and Wildlife to reevaluate individual recovery areas: Montana’s Continental Divide and Greater District. Yellowstone.
In February, Fish and Wildlife said it would move forward with Gianforte and Gordon’s petitions. But officials dismissed Little’s plea and said Idaho’s allegations were not substantial enough to warrant further investigation.
Little and Labrador criticized that reasoning in its Notice of Intent on Wednesday. They said the argument that the Lower 48 bears do not make up a distinct population came directly from the findings on fish and wildlife.
“It is incomprehensible how (Fish and Wildlife) could determine that its prior documents did not constitute ‘material information’ that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the requested deletion on the Idaho petition might be justified,” the notice read.
The notice doubled down on the initial argument that protected bears are not a distinct population.
Idaho officials said the Endangered Species Act’s continued protections “are detrimental to Idaho’s sovereign interests in managing our resident wildlife.” They noted an increase in human-bear conflicts and said rural areas were dealing with “increased risks to public safety and destruction of property.”
In 2022, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game killed six grizzly bears that it said were preying on livestock or becoming a danger to humans — one male bear in Boundary County, two females and a yearling in Fremont County, and one female and two of them. Cubs in Teton County.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still examining petitions to delist bears in the Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Restoration Areas. If Greater Yellowstone’s bears were removed from Endangered Species Act protection, it would include the bears of eastern Idaho.
2023 Idaho State.
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