Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of six conservation groups, has asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to issue emergency regulations protecting grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains and around the Yaak River in northern Idaho and Montana. In a petition sent to FWS today, the groups request additional legal protection for bears in the Cabinet-Yaak, including reclassification of the population from its current status as "threatened" to "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act, and suspension of permits allowing for the destruction of the bears' habitat.
FWS estimated in 1998 that as few as 28 bears remain in the Cabinet-Yaak. In 1999, five of those bears died, decimating an already minuscule population. Two new mines are projected within the bears' habitat, along with extensive logging and road-building. These events have, according to the petitioning conservation groups, brought grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak to the brink of extinction.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is allowing the Forest Service to road, log, and mine the Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies to death," said Cesar Hernandez of the Cabinet Resources Group. "Like bears anywhere, grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak can't survive unless their habitat is protected. But instead of protecting the bears, FWS is just documenting their demise."
FWS acknowledged in 1993 that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears and their habitat faced threats severe enough to merit classification as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. However, FWS has taken no action since then to give the bears additional legal protection, claiming that it lacks the resources to do so.
"The agencies have chosen to stand idly by while bears in the Cabinet-Yaak decline, focusing their efforts instead on withdrawing Endangered Species Act protections for bears elsewhere," said Sanjay Narayan, an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, pointing out that FWS is investing substantial resources in efforts to remove grizzly bears in Yellowstone from the list of protected species.
According to David Gaillard, of the Predator Conservation Alliance, "our intent is simple, to get some on-the-ground protections for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears and their habitat before it is too late."
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund submitted the petition on behalf of Sierra Club, Cabinet Resources Group, Montana Wilderness Association, Predator Conservation Alliance, Rock Creek Alliance, and American Wildlands.