Idaho's federal delegation urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to act on a petition to delist grizzly bears, Friday.
In a letter U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and Representatives Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher demanded USFWS Director Martha Williams respond to Idaho's grizzly bear delisting petition. That petition was filed in March by Idaho Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and asked the federal government to remove grizzly bears in Idaho and the rest of the Lower 48 States from federal protection, arguing the bears were improperly listed as an endangered species in 1975.
The USFWS has not responded to that petition, thus prompting Friday's letter.
"Idahoans have a unique interest in the delisting of the grizzly bear due to a recent and significant increase in depredation events within the state," the letter states. "Over the past five years, Idaho's Boundary and Bonner Counties annually experienced two to three grizzly bear depredation events. This year that number was 21."
IDFG did not respond to a request for comment on the accuracy of that statistic, Friday. Bears in North Idaho killed two pigs and four goats in a series of livestock attacks in late June near the Canadian border.
Pending a decision on the petition the lawmakers asked the USFWS to devote more resources to preventing human-bear conflict.
"Idahoans have a unique interest in the delisting of the grizzly bear due to a recent and significant increase in depredation events within the state," states the letter.
This year there was a regional effort to delist grizzly bears with Wyoming and Montana submitting petitions asking for grizzly bears to be removed from protection under the ESA. There are about 1,000 grizzlies 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 Idaho's Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak areas. That population is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Meanwhile the Bitterroot Ecosystem Recovery Area in north central Idaho has no grizzly bears.
The Idaho Conservation League questioned the depredation numbers cited in the letter but agreed that the USFWS should take action on the petition. However, the overall health of the Lower 48 grizzly population isn't clear, said Jeff Abrams, a wildlife program associate for ICL.
"We are eager to support state management when and where it's warranted," he said. "But we also believe that Idahoans in general want assurances that there will be a sound management plan and conservation strategy in place before that happens."
Last week the the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to reintroduce grizzly bears into Washington's North Cascades.