Federal Panel Says Yellowstone Grizzly Bears No Longer Need Protection

Thursday, December 19, 2013
Grizzly bears in Yellowstone (photo: Tom Mangelsen, AP)

A federal panel of experts says grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park are doing so well that the government no longer needs to protect the animals.


The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee voted unanimously to end federal protection of the bears in the famed national park.


The recommendation could result in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service altering its rules for managing the grizzly population in Yellowstone, which is estimated to be between 629 and 740 bears.


Six years ago, federal regulators tried to delist Yellowstone grizzlies, but a federal judge, Don Molloy, stopped the process after ruling that it was unclear from a scientific perspective how dependent grizzlies were on whitebark pine nuts as a food source. Whitebark pine trees in and around Yellowstone have been devastated by disease, which has killed nearly 75% of them.


Environmentalists objected to the delisting then, and now.


Louisa Willcox of the Center for Biological Diversity challenged the government’s claim that the bears have found protein sources to replace the whitebark.


“We know the wheels are falling off the wagon in terms of habitat changes in the Yellowstone,” Willcox told the Missoulian. “We’re asking you to take a more precautionary approach, in the spirit of the Endangered Species Act.”


She also emphasized the threat to the bears from humans. “This highly political proposal comes when the best evidence on the ground suggests the bears are facing significant threats,” she told eNews Park Forest. “The push to drop protection is being driven by states hostile to large carnivores. But these bears have the lowest reproductive rate of any North American mammal. Hunting and other causes of death are certain to reverse the progress that’s been made toward recovery.”


If the Wildlife Service agrees with the committee’s recommendation, a new management rule might be drafted in six months and published in the Federal Register for public comment. A final version would then be enacted.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Grizzly Bear Managers Recommend Delisting in Yellowstone (by Rob Chaney, Missoulian)

Despite Mounting Threats, Feds Announce Decision to Strip Endangered Species Protections for Yellowstone Grizzlies (eNews Park Forest)


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