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Conservation groups ask Congress to support more bears in the Bitterroot

Posted at 8:25 AM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 10:29:48-04

MISSOULA  — A grizzly bear researcher maintains there's room for "hundreds more" grizzlies in the backcountry of the Northern Rockies, saying the Bitterroot Mountains, in particular, have much more "carrying capacity" for the big bears. And some Idaho and Montana conservation groups want Congress to lend support to the idea.

While efforts are already underway by federal and state agencies to bring grizzlies back to the "Bitterroot" recovery zone along the border and into the Idaho backcountry, researcher Dr. David Mattson says the projected recovery rate of up to 450-bears is "far short" of what the habitat could handle.

"If we look at estimates for how many grizzly bears could be supported by say, just the recovery area, the Bitterroot Recovery Area, it's anywhere from between 320 and 450 bears. Far fewer than the estimate for all of the potential suitable habitat only considering Idaho. Somewhere between 650 and 1050 bears. And this difference is consequential. It matters."

Mattson and others on the press call like Friends of the Clearwater, and Wild Earth Guardians are calling for "urgent executive and legislative action" in a series of letters sent to Congress, and the agencies of the Biden Administration. And with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest working on a new forest plan, they believe it's critical to address issues like road-building and logging into bear habitat right away.

"We are calling for a holistic approach to ensure grizzly bears protection and recovery," explained Adam Rissien of Wild Earth Guardians. "We want to see grizzly bears not just reach some artificial population level, but we want to see grizzly bears thrive. And be able to occupy much of their historic range. And in order to do that, we need to recognize that grizzly bears, first and foremost, must stay protected under the Endangered Species Act. And calls for de-listing right now are very much premature."

Mattson maintains there needs to be "thousands of bears" in the Northern Rockies, including Idaho, if the long-term survival of grizzlies is going to be assured, and that more attention should be focused on educating residents to co-exist with the bears.

"So I think at least we need to start by acknowledging what the best available science tells us. And then from that to argue that the challenge is not to kill bears, kill more bears. The challenge is to learn how to better live with them."

One measure the groups are advocating is to have ranches voluntarily give up their gazing permits, to ease conflicts between bears and livestock in the backcountry.