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Environmental group sues feds over grizzly bear decision

A lawsuit was filed after the Trump administration failed to release public records on the termination of a program to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

An environmental group has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for failing to release public records on the termination of a program to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades in Washington state.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced that his agency will not conduct the environmental impact statement needed to move forward with the plan. That surprise decision prompted the Center for Biological Diversity to file its lawsuit in federal court Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit seeks documents related to the administration's long-standing opposition to grizzlies in the North Cascades.

“The return of grizzly bears would be a big boon to the North Cascades, so the Trump administration aims to hide the facts about its cancelation of this popular program,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The secrecy surrounding this issue has persisted for years, and it’s mind-boggling that the Interior Department has taken its anti-wildlife agenda to this level. Our suit aims to get to the bottom of the administration’s distorted priorities on grizzlies and other imperiled species.”

In a statement, the Department of Interior "The Department remains committed to government transparency and fulfilling our legal obligations as required by the Freedom of Information Act.”

RELATED: Fight continues for grizzlies in North Cascades despite federal rejection

The discussion over bringing grizzlies back to the North Cascades ecosystem has gone on for years. The bears are listed as threatened in the lower 48 states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) identified the North Cascades as one of the primary recovery areas for grizzly bears.

Estimates place only a handful of bears in the vicinity of the North Cascades in recent years. A 2011 study estimated fewer than 20 animals on the U.S. side, and a hiker photographed one in 2010, according to FWS. In one study, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote that “grizzly bears are not currently known to occupy the North Cascades ecosystem in north-central Washington..."

The Center for Biological Diversity said scientists believe the North Cascades area contains enough habitat that could support around 280 grizzly bears.

A population is known to live in eastern Washington's Selkirk mountains, but state officials believe all the bears here to be fringes of other populations in British Columbia and Idaho.

RELATED: Washington wildlife officials turn to hair and DNA to track black bear populations