The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a notice of intent to complete a new environmental impact statement for the reintroduction of the grizzly bear, a threatened species, to the Bitterroot Ecosystem by November 2026. This plan is 20 years in the making and the result of an order of the federal district court of Montana.
“Grizzly bears historically thrived in the Bitterroots, but due to eradication efforts they were largely extirpated by the 1930s,” said Erin Edge, senior representative of Defenders of Wildlife. “A lot has changed in the last 20 years since the previous Record of Decision, including increased human development in historic grizzly bear habitat. There is much to be done to ensure successful grizzly bear recovery efforts, especially at a time when grizzlies are showing back up in the area on their own.”
Located in Idaho and western Montana, the Bitterroot Ecosystem is one of the largest blocks of federal land in the lower 48 states. The FWS had prepared to reintroduce grizzlies to the Bitterroot Recovery Zone initially in 2000, but the process was halted by a change in administration. It wasn’t until 2021 that a lawsuit filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council reinvigorated action.
Defenders of Wildlife's work on Bitterroot grizzly bear restoration has included education and outreach to local communities as well as involvement in attractant storage efforts, food storage orders and bear-resistant infrastructure on public lands.
“We hope to see grizzly bears once again thriving in the Bitterroots as well as interconnected ecosystems across the landscape,” said Edge. “We will carefully review the FWS proposals to make sure they include protections for grizzly bears that will allow that vision to be successful. We will also continue to invest in on-the-ground projects that work towards empowering communities to prevent and minimize human-bear conflicts and increase awareness about grizzly bears in the region.”
The next steps for the FWS include a 60-day public comment period on the scoping process, followed by a draft EIS before the end of 2025 and a final EIS by fall 2026 followed by a Record of Decision by November 2026.