A plan to transplant problem grizzly bears to popular Targhee National Forest recreation areas has hunters, campers and camp operators growling.
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed two remote areas near Yellowstone National Park for moving grizzlies that cause trouble in other parts of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.But people who use the Targhee backcountry say that would be a mistake.
"We're upset," said Delmar Raybould of Rexburg. "There's a lot of recreation in the area; there are farms very close. The people who are going to suffer are the people of eastern Idaho."
Targhee officials have proposed the Winegar Hole area east of Ashton and the Moose Creek Plateau area east of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River as relocation sites for problem bears from more heavily used areas.
"The success of relocation of bears is dependent on distance," said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula, Mont.
"The problem we have with the Yellowstone ecosystem is that it may seem big to people but it's not big for bears."
The areas proposed are managed as "situation 1" habitat where grizzlies already live. Grizzlies are a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act and given priority over human activity in situation 1 habitat.
The Rock Creek Girls Camp also is in the proposed transplant zone. The camp is operated by seven Mormon Church stakes from Fremont and Madison counties on private land inside the national forest.
Raybould, Rexburg North Stake president, said church leaders are worried that the Forest Service may try to close down the camp if bears start causing problems there. He said camp officials agreed earlier to move the girls out if bears moved into the area.
"We think this area should be reclassified and used as a buffer zone," Raybould said. "This doesn't just involve a few girls; there are lots of families that use the camp for reunions, and it's used by church leaders. It's a very highly used area."
Hal Gibbs, a Targhee wildlife biologist, said the Forest Service has no intention of closing down the girls camp, "even if we could and I doubt we could."
He said much of the opposition is based on misunderstanding. Only one or two bears might be moved into the new areas each year, Gibbs said, and most are transplanted for disturbing garbage dumps or other property - not attacking people.
"I don't think we'd ever be asked to take a bear showing aggressive action toward humans," he said.
Kevin Calaway, a Terreton farmer, was among nearly 70 people who wrote letters opposing the plan. And he knows what an aggressive bear looks like. He was charged by a grizzly three years ago while hunting elk on the Moose Creek Plateau, but got away on his horse.
"It was kind of scary," he said.
So Calaway got angry when he heard Forest Service officials were planning to move problem bears into the area from Yellowstone.
"If they want to protect those grizzlies up in the park they should keep them in the park," he said Friday. "I wouldn't want my kids playing out there."
Church officials contend there are no grizzlies near the girls camp now, but the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say there are.
"There are bear there," said Joe Curry, a Fish and Game officer in Ashton. "It's not like they're reintroducing bear into the area."
Fish and Wildlife is revising its grizzly bear recovery plan for the Yellowstone area. But Servheen would not say whether it will change the boundaries of situation 1 habitat in response to complaints from people on the Targhee.