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Agencies to allow for bear status

Agencies to allow for bear status

The return of Yellowstone grizzly bears to the threatened-species list will force federal agencies to again conduct environmental reviews on proposed roads, timber sales and grazing permits in bear country.

A federal judge in Missoula last week struck down a 2007 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that had removed federal protections for the animal's status. The ruling restored the species' protected status under the Endangered Species Act.

An estimated 600 grizzlies live in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Hunting for the animals already was prohibited prior to last week's ruling.

But with the bear now back on the threatened list, the Fish and Wildlife Service will revive its practice of consulting with other federal agencies when they pursue projects that potentially could harm the animal.

"The basic message is that federal agencies need to evaluate their actions with respect to what effect they may have on grizzly bears," said Brian Kelly, Fish and Wildlife Service Wyoming field supervisor.

The most complex reviews could take 135 days or longer to complete. But most are expected to be completed much faster, Kelly said.

In many cases, he said, his agency will be able to lean heavily on past work done with bears, which had been on the threatened-species list for three decades prior to their 2007 removal.

Jim Magagna with the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association said few changes were expected for the livestock industry.

By 2007, many public-lands grazing permits in the Yellowstone region had been retired after they came up for renewal. Magagna said the permits that remained were unlikely to go away now.

"This was pretty well sorted out," he said. "I haven't seen anything to make me believe things change much" with bears again listed as threatened, he said.

Judge Donald Molloy wrote in his Sept. 21 ruling that climate change's effect on a key food source for some bears - the nuts of whitebark pine cones - had put the animals at continued risk. He also cited flaws in state and federal conservation plans for the bears.

But the coordinator of the federal government's grizzly bear recovery effort, Chris Servheen, defended the 2007 decision. He said it was based on sound science and pointed out that the government had successfully brought back bears from near extermination last century.

"We had intensive analysis of whitebark pine changes and the biology and diet of grizzly bears," Servheen said. "There was extensive review and the best bear scientists in the world were involved in making that decision."

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