Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) Grizzlies have been spotted in the Bitterroot, but the ecosystem doesn’t have an “established population.”

This week, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a public scoping period to consider options for restoring grizzly bears to the Bitterroot ecosystem — although it said one option is not taking any action.

(It said an “established population” of grizzlies means two or more breeding females or one with two consecutive litters.)

“The Service will assess the potential impacts of proposed restoration options in an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act,” the agency said in a news release encouraging the public to review a scoping notice and provide input.

Grizzlies are listed as a threatened species in the contiguous United States.

In the news release, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the U.S. District Court for Montana ruled the Service “unreasonably delayed implementing certain actions in the November 2000 ROD (record of decision), including creating a citizens advisory committee.”

It said the court ordered it to supplement the impact statement and, if warranted, issue a new decision. But the Service said it is completing a new environmental impact statement and making a new decision “based on the best available science and information because the science and information used to inform the original action are over two decades old.”

A new decision is due by November 2026.

“The grizzly bear restoration EIS in the Bitterroot ecosystem will analyze alternatives for restoration by examining potential effects on the human environment, addressing management approaches for bear-human conflicts, assessing considerations for grizzly bear connectivity between recovery zones, and incorporating other relevant information regarding impacts,” the news release said. “As part of this process, the Service will identify several actions to consider, including a no-action alternative.”

A public comment period is open for 60 days, from Jan. 18 to March 18. Submit comments at using docket number FWS-R6-ES-2023-0203.

A series of virtual public information sessions “for informational purposes only” is scheduled:

  • Monday, February 5, 2024, at 6 p.m. Mountain Time [Register here]
  • Tuesday, February 13, 2024, at 6 p.m. Mountain Time [Register here]
  • Wednesday, February 14, 2024, at 2 p.m. Mountain Time [Register here]

For information, documents, and ongoing updates about this project, visit the Service’s Bitterroot Grizzly Bear EIS webpage at