July 4, 2017
Hard to believe that a bear that can be as tall as 10 feet — with 8-inch claws — could be endangered, but that's what happened with the grizzly bear in the West. The animals were in danger of becoming extinct, but a listing on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, and the Endangered Species Act seems to be working.
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) from the federal list. Restoration of the bear in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho during the last 30 years is a conservation success, according to USFWS. In a statement about the proposed move, the service noted that the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to more than 700 today.
In a release about the move, Dan Ashe, service director, commented that the recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a "historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act. Our proposal today underscores and celebrates more than 30 years of collaboration with our trusted federal, state and tribal partners to address the unique habitat challenges of grizzlies. The final post-delisting management plans by these partners will ensure healthy grizzly populations persist across the Yellowstone ecosystem long into the future."
To ensure continued monitory of this population of grizzly bears the FSWS released two documents for public comment, a draft supplement to the 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan for the Yellowstone grizzly bear population, and a draft conservation strategy. The documents detail how both grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed in a post-delisting environment.
Ashe added: "We will continue to be part of a strong monitoring program, implementation of the conservation strategy and partnership with our state and federal partners. We are looking forward to hearing from the public about the proposal and consulting with Native American tribes."
Population and habitat monitoring efforts undertaken by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee study team indicate that grizzly bears have more than doubled their range since the mid-1970s. They now occupy more than 22,500 square miles of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, an area larger than the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined. Stable population numbers for grizzlies for more than a decade also indicate that the Yellowstone ecosystem is at or near its carrying capacity for the bears.
Farm groups weigh in
Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau executive vice president, offered support for the delisting proposal: "The number of grizzly bears has long since reached recovery goals in the area, and by taking this action we feel it will provide the management flexibility that can help ranchers in the area better cope with the impacts of these large carnivores. Wyoming will now be able to provide state management over wildlife that is impacting our state."
Hamilton added that there will be legal challenges to this move, which he said will be unfortunate since the goals and numbers have been reached and surpassed to delist the species. "But we recognize there are some well-financed groups who are not necessarily interested in seeing the species delisted, but are instead still anxious to preserve the federal agency's control of state wildlife."
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead noted that grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting. "In 2013, I asked [then-Interior] Secretary Salazar to delist the grizzly bears, and much work toward this end has been done," he said. "I appreciate that the FWS is proceeding now with the delisting."
Craig Uden, president, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and Dave Eliason, president, Public Lands Council, issued a joint statement on the proposed delisting:
"This is good news for the Yellowstone grizzly and good news for the region's ranchers. Secretary Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deserve credit for today's action, and we urge them to now take similar steps to remove other grizzly populations throughout the West from federal ESA protection — including the distinct population segment in the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State."
Mead offered some history on the issue: In 2007, the FWS delisted grizzly bears in the GYE. A federal judge reinstated protections in 2009, after finding that the FWS did not adequately consider the impacts of the decline of whitebark pine nuts — a grizzly bear food source. In 2013, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee study seam determined that the reduction in whitebark pine nuts did not significantly impact grizzly bears, and again recommended delisting. In March 2016, the FWS published a draft rule to delist grizzly bears in the GYE. States gave additional assurance regarding long-term viability. Wyoming has adopted a Grizzly Bear Management Plan outlining how management will occur after the bears are delisted.
Sources: USFWS, Wyoming Farm Bureau, NCBA
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