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Sierra Club Fights to Save Four Grizzlies

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Sierra Club sued the United States for authorizing the killing of four grizzly bears in Grand Teton National Park.

The continent's top predator has been listed as a threatened species for 40 years. But the Secretary of the Interior sees the bears as collateral damage in an Elk Reduction Program in Grand Teton National Park, the Sierra Club and the Western Watersheds say in their April 3 federal complaint.

The program was approved by the co-defendant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.

Fish and Wildlife in 2013 issued the National Park Service an addendum to the Elk Reduction Program, allowing for the killing of up to four grizzly bears at Grand Teton. Fish and Wildlife had exempted one grizzly bear killing between 2007 and 2022, to account for encounters between bears and elk hunters, but that exemption was exhausted in 2012 when three hunters put down a grizzly.

"(The National Park Service) believed it likely that more bears would be killed in this time frame," the complaint states, "and thus requested reinitiation of consultation with (Fish and Wildlife)."

The environmental groups say that no proper consultation process was completed and that neither government agency has the right to unilaterally decide to kill a species protected by Congress.

The Endangered Species Act classifies a "threatened" species as "any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

The Sierra Club "places a high value on grizzly bears as a species ... because the presence of these bears promotes the healthy functioning of ecosystems," the complaint states.

Areas affected by declining grizzly numbers include the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which covers 28,000 square miles, including Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone's biological diversity could be at risk if its grizzlies, one of the few populations in the continental United States, are targeted by hunters, the environmentalists say.

The National Park Service says an ecosystem's biodiversity can be measured by its number of species and the abundance of each species.

"Greater Yellowstone's natural diversity is essentially intact," the Park Service states on its website. "The region appears to have retained or restored its full historical complement of vertebrate wildlife species - something truly unique in the wildlands of the contiguous 48 states."

Efforts to maintain and restore Yellowstone's ecosystem with freshly repopulated species will be jeopardized if even four grizzly bears are killed, according to Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project.

They claim that Fish and Wildlife "failed to conduct a rational jeopardy analysis utilizing the best scientific information" to ensure the survival of the four grizzlies earmarked for death in the scrum to curb Yellowstone's elk population.

"Further, the National Park Service's reliance on this flawed (addendum) to satisfy its own ESA ... duties in connection with the Elk Reduction Program is also unlawful."

They ask the court to set aside the addendum and the authorization of the Elk Reduction Program, as violations of the Endangered Species Act.

They are represented by Timothy Preso, with Earthjustice, of Bozeman, Mont.

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