The Idaho federal delegation Friday asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service to honor a petition to eliminate grizzly bears.
In a letter, U.S. Reapers Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, and Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, urged USFWS Director Martha Williams to respond to Idaho’s petition to delist grizzly bears.
Filed in March by Idaho Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, this petition called on the federal government to remove grizzly bears from federal protections in Idaho and the remaining 48 states, arguing that the bears are not were duly listed as an endangered species in 1975.
The USFWS did not respond to this petition, prompting Friday’s letter.
“Idahoans have a unique interest in grizzly bear elimination due to a recent and significant increase in devastation within the state,” the letter said. “For the past five years, two to three grizzly bear predations have been recorded annually in Boundary and Bonner counties, Idaho. This year there were 21.”
IDFG did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the accuracy of those statistics. Bears in northern Idaho killed two pigs and four goats in a series of cattle attacks near the Canadian border in late June.
Pending a decision on the petition, lawmakers urged the USFWS to allocate more resources to preventing human-bear conflict.
This year there was a regional effort to delist grizzly bears, with Wyoming and Montana filing petitions calling for grizzly bears to be removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act. There are about 1,000 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem near Yellowstone National Park, and Montana has an estimated population of about 1,000 bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in and around Glacier National Park.
There are an estimated 50 bears in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas of Idaho. This population is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Meanwhile, there are no grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Ecosystem Recovery Area in north-central Idaho.
The Idaho Conservation League questioned the devastation figures provided in the letter, but agreed that the USFWS should take action on the petition. However, the overall health of the lower 48 grizzly populations is not clear, said Jeff Abrams, a wildlife program associate at ICL.
“We aim to support state administration when and where warranted,” he said. “But we also believe that Idahoans in general want reassurance that there is a sound management plan and conservation strategy in place before that happens.”
Earlier this month, the National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced they were considering plans to reintroduce grizzly bears to Washington’s North Cascades.