Grizzly Bear Restoration Under Citizen Management

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(03/10/2000) - A diverse coalition of forestry, labor and conservation interests said today that a direct role for local people in bear management is "a significant step closer" with today's release of a Final Environmental Impact Statement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS). The innovative proposal released by FWS would reintroduce grizzly bears to wilderness areas in the Bitterroot ecosystem of central Idaho and western Montana.

"When we began this effort we were seeking a way to balance the interests of people who depend on the land for their livelihoods and recreation with the need to recover grizzlies under the ESA," said ROOTS spokesman Bill Mulligan. "The Citizen Management Plan does that."

The selected alternative in the FWS’s final Environmental Impact Statement would, for the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), share federal management authority for a listed species with a committee composed of Idaho and Montana citizens, representatives of state and federal wildlife agencies, and a member of the Nez Perce Tribe. The Citizen Management Plan provides a direct management role for local people who must abide by the same endangered species rules as federal agencies. The Committee must use the best available science to make decisions and its actions must lead to recovery of the species.

The Citizen Management Plan emerged from discussions that began in 1995 among lumber mill workers and owners, foresters, and conservationists. Mill workers and foresters were represented by the Resource Organization on Timber Supply (ROOTS) and the Intermountain Forest Association (IFA). Conservationists were represented by the National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife, two of the nation’s leading conservation organizations.

"Citizen Management is a common sense approach that will restore our wildlife heritage and address the needs of local communities at the same time," said Tom France, Director of the National Wildlife Federation's Northern Rockies Project Office in Missoula, MT. "This approach has the potential to set an important precedent for resolving endangered species conflicts."

"We think we can increase public support for grizzly restoration by providing citizens an expanded role in management. We believe a citizen committee, with its on-the-ground knowledge and expertise, will devise creative solutions that are good for bears and have broad public acceptance," said Hank Fischer, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife. He added, "We have a great deal of optimism about the inherent tendency of humans to do what’s right for wildlife."

The groups noted that significant changes in the proposal have taken place between the draft and final document. "We especially welcome the inclusion of recommendations by Montana Governor Marc Racicot to strengthen the Citizen Management Committee," said IFA spokesman Jim Riley. "This approach provides the necessary assurance that authority delegated to the committee by the Secretary of the Interior will be real," Riley said.

Under this concept, if disagreements developed between the citizen committee and the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary could not simply disband the committee. The plan requires the Secretary and the governors of Montana and Idaho to jointly appoint a three- person scientific team to arbitrate any disputes that cannot be resolved.

Labor representative Phil Hughes said, "This proposal mimics the process we use to resolve contentious debates between labor and management."

France said that another important change to the draft document is creation of a scientific advisory panel to advise the citizen committee. This panel will consist of two scientists, one from Montana and one from Idaho, nominated by the by the Wildlife Society chapters and universities in each state. These scientists will attend all meetings of the citizen committee and provide technical advice. "It’s imperative that the committee relies on sound science to direct its actions," he added.

Last year, the FWS published the results of public reaction to its grizzly recovery proposals which showed that 76.6 percent of all 24,251 written comments received favored grizzly recovery. The Citizen Management plan proposes using the ESA's flexible management provisions and specifically envisions no significant alteration of current uses of public land, including logging, hunting and camping.

"We believe the way to reach consensus on grizzly bear recovery is with Citizen Management," said IFA Executive Director Jim Riley. "Getting local people involved and using flexible management to return the grizzly are essential to making this work."

As detailed in the FWS document, the Citizens Management Committee will be composed of 15 members serving six-year terms. It will include seven Idaho citizens (one a representative of Idaho's Fish and Game Department), five Montana citizens (one a representative of Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks), plus representatives from the FWS, the U.S. Forest Service and the Nez Perce Tribe. Except for the Forest Service, FWS and tribal positions, the Secretary of the Interior will make all appointments based on the recommendations of the governors of Idaho and Montana.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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