The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in the Federal Registry this week that it was sticking by its decision to delist grizzlies in the Yellowstone region from Endangered Species Act protections.
The agency says the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzlies are a discreet population from other grizzlies and their population has recovered sufficiently enough to allow hunters in nearby states to kill them.
The decision comes despite a court ruling that overturned a similar action by FWS when it delisted a group of gray wolves. The court overturned the agency’s actions saying it had failed to account for how delisting a segment of the species would impact the remaining protected wolves.
The grizzlies in the U.S.’s lower 48 were one of the first species to be listed under ESA in 1975. More than 50,000 grizzlies once roamed the Great Plains but were down to just about 130 in the 1970s.
FWS first tried to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies in 2007 but a judge overturned the move after wildlife advocates sued. In its recent decision, FWS said the ESA protections for remaining grizzlies in the U.S. will continue for now as will protections for grizzlies inside Yellowstone National Park as long as they don’t leave its boundaries.
The bears face mortality pressures from climate change impacts on their food supply as well habitat encroachment. Just one of three cubs survive to adulthood. Additionally, the Yellowstone population, which now numbers about 700, is too small to have enough genetic diversity to adapt to changes in their environment.
The FWS decision will push the responsibility for the management of the bears to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Wyoming has already announced it will allow hunters to kill 10 males and two female grizzlies; Idaho will allow hunters to kill one bear. Montana has not issued a decision on hunts yet.
FWS in recent months has made several moves to allow more hunting of America’s wildlife, weaken ESA protections, and has reduced several federal monuments, pushing wildlife into smaller protected habitats.
With development increasing in the Northern Rockies region, instead of proposing a plan to delist grizzly bears, FWS should be working with the National Park Service to expand Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park so the grizzly bears, and other wildlife, can continue to thrive.
This is a grizzly decision we should all jeer.