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The Planet

Grizzly Court Victory

A Step Toward Real Recovery

The Planet, December 1995, Volume 2, number 9

In a major victory for grizzly bears and the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. district judge this fall struck down a federal grizzly recovery plan that environmentalists said was seriously flawed.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups, represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, had filed a lawsuit arguing that the plan violated the ESA. The judge agreed, echoing the Club's concern that the plan does not take into account the importance of protecting the grizzly's habitat, which biologists say is key to its recovery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must now reassess the plan.

"This is a terrific and precedent-setting ruling," said Jim Angell, a lawyer for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in Bozeman, Mont. "It asserts that recovery plans have to address the threats that led to the animal's original listing. It will also prevent the state of Wyoming and the Fish and Wildlife Service from rushing to 'delist' Yellowstone's grizzlies when they are in more danger of extinction now than they were 20 years ago, when they were listed."

Though all grizzlies in the lower 48 states are listed as threatened, the Fish and Wildlife service maintains that the grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is recovering and could soon be removed from the threatened species list.

But the judge found that the methods used by the agency for counting grizzlies are unreliable, and said its plan fails to consider the effects of geographic and genetic isolation on the grizzly's long-term survival.

"Though some of the major mortality sinkholes for the grizzly are under control garbage dumps have been 'bear-proofed' and hunters have been taught how to reduce bear encounters the government has not done a decent job of protecting their habitat," explained Larry Mehlhaff, regional director for the Club's Northern Plains field office.

The judge's ruling will help slow the Fish and Wildlife Service's campaign to take Yellowstone grizzlies off the list, say Sierra Club leaders. In the meantime, the Club is stepping up public education efforts in communities in Montana and Wyoming to boost awareness of the grizzly's plight, said longtime volunteer Connie Wilbert, a Wyoming native.

"Grizzlies need a lot of territory," she said. "But logging, mining and other development keep chipping away at the habitat that's left. In public meetings and press conferences, we're going to stress the need to keep grizzlies under federal protection and the importance of habitat to their long-term survival."

In a separate decision, the judge ruled that the government's refusal to change the status of two isolated grizzly populations in Montana, Idaho and Washington from threatened to endangered was illegal.

For more information: Contact Larry Mehlhaff at (307) 672-0425.


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