Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Dan Flores

Commitee Members

Jeff Wiltse, Michael Patterson


Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Bitterroot, citizen management, collaboration, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Species Act, gray wolf, grizzly bear, National Wildlife Federation, reintroduction, Selway


University of Montana


Beginning in the early 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with a number of non-government organizations, formulated a plan to bring grizzly bears back to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Many of the people who developed the plan previously had worked on wolf recovery efforts in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, and the plan they developed for grizzly bears sought to avoid many of the controversial aspects of wolf reintroduction. The plan for the Bitterroots not only relaxed the restrictions of the Endangered Species Act, but also allowed unprecedented local management of the grizzly bear population. The plan’s advocates believed that their innovative approach would be the model for future endangered species restoration. Despite criticism from both conservatives and liberals, the plan marched steadily forward over the closing years of the twentieth century. In November of 2000, the FWS approved the project and expected to begin implementation in the summer of 2002. But when the Bush Administration took office in January, 2001, the new Secretary of the Interior promptly shelved the project. This thesis situates the collapse of the project as a product of the political, economic, and cultural divide that characterized the West during this period. Although the New West, which championed environmentalism, ecotourism, and recreational opportunities, had made great inroads in the region, the Old West of extractive industries such as ranching, logging, farming, and mining retained significant political clout.

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