On Thursday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke officially removed Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from the federal Endangered Species Act.
Though the Yellowstone grizzly is not a distinct species or subspecies of grizzly bear, the Interior Department manages the creatures as a distinct population living in northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners”, he said.
He said Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have agreements in place to continue coordination with federal land managers to ensure bears are managed responsibly and in a sustainable manner.
The various government agencies agreed to a conservation strategy in December that lines out the allowable discretionary mortality for grizzly bears each year, a number that is calculated based on the year’s population estimate.
For the first time in more than 40 years, grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park are leaving the federal government’s protections list for endangered species.
Conservation groups were however quick to criticize the move, saying dropping federal protections would again put grizzly bears at risk. To address this, FWS has suggested that, as a last resort, it could always just capture and then truck a few northern bears south to introduce new genes to the Yellowstone population-an artificial solution that would undermine the very concept, and ultimate goal, of a “recovered” species.
Removal of protections for bears is welcome news for cattle ranchers, some of whom have been plagued by bear attacks on their livestock. FWS first published its proposed delisting rule in May 2016, and that development came as little surprise, given the signals broadcasted by various agencies months earlier.
The Interior Department also said the grizzly population has been stable since 2002 and that its decision was “made based exclusively on the science”.
Of course, the knee-jerk reaction for some is to assume that it’s now open season on all grizzly bears roaming in Yellowstone, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The final ruling by the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the list of endangered and threatened species will give jurisdiction over the bears to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by late July.
But the decision to delist the bears is opposed by a litany of tribal and environmental groups. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks drafted its own management strategy for the bears a year ago, including the controversial consideration of trophy hunts, in anticipation of a final rule.
He explained, “Even though the grizzly bear may not be warranted as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, there are still threats out there”. They say that the delisting is premature, that the population of bears is unstable and that this whole move is completely political.
From Governor Steve Bullock, “The recovery of the iconic Grizzly Bear is a remarkable success story – one which we should celebrate while remaining focused on protecting the very habitat that made recovery possible,”said Governor Bullock.”Montana embraces the responsibility of managing wildlife and we look forward to continuing the collaboration and responsible stewardship that led to this significant milestone”. They point to the fact that a key food source for the bears, whitebark pine nuts, may be on the decline from climate change.