Indianz.Com > News > Montana Free Press: Input sought on reintroduction of grizzly bears
Grizzly Bear
A grizzly bear in Montana. Photo: Pat (Cletch) Williams
Should feds reintroduce grizzly bears to the Bitterroot? USFWS seeks input.
The new planning process comes as a handful of grizzlies have started moving into the Bitterroot Valley of their own accord.
Wednesday, January 24, 2024
Montana Free Press

This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on January 17 announced that it’s initiating a public input process that could help clear the way for reintroducing grizzly bears into the Bitterroot. 

The agency, which is charged with managing threatened and endangered species, is considering the move after a federal court ruled that it had erred by failing to act on a 2000 record of decision establishing a framework for a reintroduction of a “nonessential experimental population” in the Bitterroot Recovery Area. The recovery area spans 5,800 square miles and includes swaths of central Idaho as well as the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness on the west side of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Siding with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy has directed the agency to prepare a new Environmental Impact Statement. The public scoping process that USFWS is undertaking now is a preliminary step in the production of that document, which is expected in the latter half of 2026.

Bitterroot Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone
Map of the Bitterroot Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone in Montana. Image Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

In a release soliciting input from the public, USFWS said it aims to create a plan that will incorporate potential effects on the human environment, approaches to managing bear-human conflicts, considerations related to grizzly bear connectivity between recovery zones and “other relevant information regarding impacts.” It noted that a “no-action” alternative is one of the options available to the agency.

USFWS is currently reviewing a petition by Montana and Wyoming to delist the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly populations. Additionally, confirmed sightings of grizzlies have been reported over the last year in parts of Montana where they haven’t been seen in decades, including the Missouri River Breaks, the Shields River Valley and the Pryor Mountains.

One of the places that grizzly bears have been increasingly moving into after a nearly 80-year absence is the Bitterroot Valley — an area that’s becoming increasingly popular with people, too. In 2018, a grizzly was captured on a Stevensville golf course, and in 2022 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks relocated two cubs that had been hanging around the northern end of the valley into the Sapphire Mountains.

Members of the public can weigh in on this step of the process through March 18, 2024, and tune into virtual public information sessions the agency is hosting on February 5, 13 and 14.

Note: This story originally appeared on Montana Free Press. It is published under a Creative Commons license.