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US delays repairs for Idaho road in grizzly bear habitat

Grizzly bear
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - U.S. officials will delay the repair of an impassable northern Idaho road in important grizzly bear habitat near the Canadian border because of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

Work to reopen about 5 miles of the dirt road because of threats to border security had been scheduled to start Monday, but has now been put off until the summer of 2021, the documents said.

The Center for Biological Diversity and four other environmental groups in March sued the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, contending that repairing the road and opening it to vehicles would harm grizzly bears, mountain caribou and other wildlife in the Selkirk Mountains.

U.S. officials have said they fear that people illegally come into the country in the area and that the road repairs would allow Border Protection agents to catch perpetrators before they reach populated areas where they can blend in.

The work would include installing new culverts and cutting trees and brush around the road located in a remote part of Boundary County, about 2 miles from the Canadian border. A culvert failure had caused a washout that made the road impassable.

Plans also called for opening up the 5 miles of road to the public from July 15 to August 15 annually.

Environmentalists, who have said law enforcement officials can access the area in other ways, welcomed the delay in road repairs.

"We're pleased this lawsuit has pushed the Trump administration to hit pause on reconstructing an abandoned road in this pristine area where a fragile grizzly bear population is struggling to recover," Andrea Zaccardi, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "This is a great first step, and we'll continue to fight until this unnecessary and destructive plan is completely abandoned."

The U.S. Justice Department, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment made through the department's online system for journalists.

The road was closed in the late 1980s to protect endangered grizzly bears roaming the area between Upper Priest Lake and the Canadian border.

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Associated Press

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