Late last year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed that the Yellowstone grizzly bear population be removed from the federal list of threatened species. As a complement to that proposal, the Forest Service developed a combination of measures that are intended to ensure the protection of sufficient habitat for the grizzly population to survive once federal protection is lifted. On Monday the conservation groups filed an appeal of the Forest Service plan, contending that it does not protect enough bear habitat.
"We're asking that the Forest Service protect the lands where the bears currently live," said Dick Dolan of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "According to the government's own scientists, 40% of the land where grizzlies now live will not be protected by the government plan."
In the limited area where the Forest Service measures do apply, the groups contend that the protections are not strong enough. "The plan designates 'secure habitat' for the bears," said Heidi Godwin of the Sierra Club. "But the Forest Service included a loophole that allows 30,000 acres of that supposedly 'secure' habitat to be lost every year. It just doesn't make sense."
The groups were also disturbed by the Forest Service's treatment of the public comments on the plan. By law, federal agencies are required to listen to input from the public regarding their management of public lands. The Forest Service gave short shrift to the public comment it received. Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out that the Forest Service received more than 40,000 comments urging it to adopt stronger protections across more land. "More than 90% of the public comments recommended that the Forest Service give the bears more space to live," said Willcox. "But the Forest Service did not even acknowledge that overwhelming public response." In its final decision, the Forest Service stated that "many" people favored the plan as proposed, while only "a number" asked for greater protections. "The agency misrepresented how the public feels about grizzly bears," Willcox said.
The appeal will be decided by the Forest Service's Regional Forester in Ogden, Utah. A decision is not expected until early this fall.