Feds agree to review grizzly protections in lower 48 states

A court settlement calls for federal officials to review whether enough is being done to protect grizzly bears in Idaho, Montana, and the other lower 48 states after environmentalists sued the government to try to restore the animals to more areas.

Under the agreement approved Monday by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen , the review must be completed by March 31st, 2021. Grizzly bears have been protected as a threatened species in the U.S. – except in Alaska – since 1975, allowing a slow recovery in a handful of areas.

An estimated 1,900 of the animals live in portions of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington state.

Tens of thousands of grizzlies once populated western North America before hunting, trapping and habitat loss wiped out most by the early 1900s.

Federal wildlife officials said in 2011 that additional areas should be considered for grizzly bear recovery, but that work has never been completed. In a lawsuit filed in June, the Center for Biological Diversity sought to force officials to consider restoring grizzlies to parts of California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to the grizzly status review that could lay the groundwork for new restoration plans, though that’s not guaranteed.

A review of the states in the continental U.S. would look at potential habitat for grizzlies, people who live in those areas, and how far they are from existing grizzly populations. However, some federal officials feel the review would distract from efforts already underway to bolster struggling populations of grizzlies in areas like the North Cascades of Washington state and the Bitterroot region of Montana and Idaho.

Environmentalists successfully sued last year to block grizzly hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho. (AP)