This week an environmental group filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in Missoula, saying that grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak area of northwest Montana should be listed as endangered species.
Right now the federal agency estimates there are about 50 grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies says that number is actually closer to 40, and that the minimum number of bears necessary for the population to recover is one hundred. Therefore, the Alliance says, the bears should be up-listed from “threatened” status to “endangered” Endangered status would give the bears additional protections.
The Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but Spokeswoman Serena Baker says agency biologists carefully considered which status is appropriate.
"Because the population is increasing and really has been stable for a number of years, the threatened status really was the appropriate status," Baker says.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies lawsuit disputes that the population is growing. It takes issue with the federal agency counting grizzlies that are transplanted in from other areas as evidence of a healthy population.
The lawsuit comes after the Alliance in December 2014 unsuccessfully petitioned Fish and Wildlife to up-list the Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies. Their petition was followed by one from Lincoln County, Montana, asking the federal agency to down-list the bears, or remove them from the endangered species list entirely. The Fish and Wildlife Service denied Lincoln County’s petition as well. It says the 2014 re-write of the Kootenai National Forest’s master plan has helped create better conditions for grizzly survivability, but at this point the population is not sufficiently recovered to fully de-list it.