Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 10, 2019

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Lawsuit Launched Over Trump Administration Failure to Expand Grizzly Bear Recovery

MISSOULA, Mont.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to create a comprehensive recovery plan for grizzly bears that considers reintroducing them to places like California’s Sierra Nevada, the Selway-Bitteroot in Idaho and Montana, and the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas in Arizona.

Today’s filing follows a 2014 petition by the Center that identified 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in the lower 48 states.

The Trump administration, so far, has only attempted to halt grizzly recovery, including a 2017 order to remove federal protection from Yellowstone grizzlies that was overturned by a judge in September 2018.

“It’s past time the Fish and Wildlife Service created a new grizzly bear plan to follow the science and truly recover these magnificent animals,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “Grizzlies are icons of the American West, but they’re relegated to a small fraction of the lands they once roamed. These amazing animals should live wherever there’s good habitat in the West.”

In overturning removal of protection for Yellowstone bears, the court faulted the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking a piecemeal approach to recovery that ignored the impact of stripping protection from those animals on the rest of the lower 48 population. 

The court also faulted the agency for not addressing Yellowstone bears’ isolation from other populations. Both findings clearly highlight the need for a new recovery plan. 

“The recovery of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks is a noted Endangered Species Act success, but the bruins are far from full recovery,” said Greenwald. “We’d love to see the Fish and Wildlife Service look for new opportunities to recover bears in more of their historic range in the western U.S. and connect the populations in Yellowstone and Glacier with others.”

The Service even acknowledged the need for a new recovery plan in a 2011 grizzly bear status review. The agency concluded that the 1993 plan no longer reflected best available science and needed to be updated to consider additional recovery areas.

Relying on extensive research since 1993, the Center’s petition identified 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in places like California’s Sierra Nevada, the Selway-Bitteroot in Idaho and Montana, Utah’s Uinta Mountains and the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas in Arizona.

Returning bears to some or all of these areas is a crucial step toward recovering them under the Endangered Species Act and could potentially triple the grizzly bear population in the lower 48, from a meager 1,500 to 1,800 today to as many as 6,000.

More than 50,000 grizzly bears once ranged throughout most of western North America, from the high Arctic to the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico and from the coast of California across most of the Great Plains. Within 200 years of European settlement, wanton slaughter had reduced populations to perhaps several hundred bears, mostly found in Yellowstone National Park.

Outside the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide populations, very little progress has been made in recovering grizzlies. Remaining populations cover an area that is a mere 4 percent of the bears’ historic range and only 22 percent of potentially suitable habitat identified by researchers. 

Today there are only 1,500 to 1,800 grizzly bears left in the lower 48 states. There are about 700 bears in the isolated Greater Yellowstone ecosystem; 800 in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem; 25 to 50 in the Selkirk ecosystem of Washington and Idaho; 45 in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem of Montana and Idaho; and possibly a couple of bears in Washington’s North Cascades.

At best the populations in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems have remained stable, but with such low numbers they are on the very brink of extinction. Grizzly bears have been functionally extirpated from the North Cascades, and they are now also extirpated from the Selway-Bitterroot and San Juan mountains.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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