Conservation group proposes bringing grizzly bears back into Arizona
PHOENIX – An Arizona conservation group wants the federal government to consider reintroducing grizzly bears into the state.
The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in Montana’s U.S. District Court on Thursday accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to update the federal recovery plan for grizzly bears, which was last revised in 1993.
Fewer than 2,000 grizzly bears remain in the lower 48 states, where they can be found in Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Idaho, according to the center.
The lawsuit says the agency should evaluate the possibility of reintroducing grizzlies into their historic habitat in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington.
“In the next couple of years, we’d like the service to evaluate the science on grizzly bear habitat in Arizona and elsewhere and develop an updated recovery plan to consider reintroduction in these additional areas,” Collette Adkins, the center’s carnivore conservation director, told KTAR News 92.3 FM in an email.
“Reintroduction would be a multiyear process, and the first step is the evaluation.”
Adkins said the Mogollon Rim and Gila Wilderness complex spanning Arizona and New Mexico and the Grand Canyon area have been identified as good grizzly bear habitat.
She said grizzlies are considered an “umbrella species” because they require a large habitat and protecting them protects the habitat for many other animals.
“Like other top carnivores, grizzlies have a strong influence on ecosystems,” Adkins said.
“For example, they reduce overgrazing by ungulates. Grizzlies also disperse seeds and help with nutrient cycling in soils when they dig.”
In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service turned down a Center for Biological Diversity petition asking for the recovery plan to be updated and for additional habitat areas to be considered.
That petition identified 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly bear habitat.