On March 4, 2016 the US Fish and Wildlife Service released their proposal to remove the grizzly bears of the Yellowstone area from the Endangered Species List, a process known as "delisting."
If the USFWS succeeds in delisting grizzlies the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act will be removed and management authority for the bears will pass from the federal government to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho - the same states that had that authority taken away for failing to keep their grizzly populations healthy.
All three states - well-known for their hostility towards predators - are currently working towards authorizing trophy hunting of this iconic species as their primary means of "managing" the population.
This website is intended to do the following:
+ Short version of Delisting Debate
Everything about delisting is complicated. There are too many agencies, too many reports, and too much information, much of which is actually disinformation. This short version explains the broad outlines of the grizzly delisting debate.
General Background on Grizzlies and Delisting
The Yellowstone grizzly was placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act as “threatened” in 1975, when there were fewer than 150 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Today, the population is estimated at around 717 grizzlies and the bears have tripled their range since 1975. Millions of dollars been spent to recover the species to this point.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees species listed under the ESA, has declared the population recovered and proposed in March 2016 that protections be removed, a process called "delisting"
The Pro-Delisting Argument
According to recovery plans, the bear would be considered recovered if three main recovery criteria were met. (see Demographic Recovery Criteria)
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and says that the grizzly has met or exceeded all of the criteria for recovery set in 1975 and amended several times since then.
The federal government, the states and others say the grizzly has reached "carrying capacity", i.e., it has fully occupied its habitat, and is now spilling over into areas where it is experiencing growing conflicts that often result in the bear’s death.
The Anti-Delisting Argument
Those opposing delisting include many credible and respected scientists - including former government scientists - who argue that the population remains threatened, and therefore delisting would be premature. Most who oppose delisting claim the US Fish and Wildlife Service is not following good science, but instead bowing to political pressure.
Non-government scientists say the Yellowstone grizzly is still vulnerable because large segments of the population have recently lost two of their four primary food sources: whitebark pine seeds because of a warming climate and cutthroat trout because of predation by lake trout. The full effects of those losses have yet to be realized.
Scientists say climate change likely will continue to compromise the grizzly’s remaining food sources, including army cutworm moths, the third of the four primary food sources.
Finally, the population has been flat since 2007, yet mortalities continue to rise, which leads many to believe the population cannot sustain itself.
Our Take On Delisting
One of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's paramount responsibilities is to implement the Endangered Species Act. The ESA’s goal is to prevent extinction of species and to recover endangered or threatened species.
And while it appears that the USFWS has achieved the first goal by preventing extinction, it is premature to conclude that the GYE population of grizzly bears is recovered “to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this [Endangered Species] Act are no longer necessary.”
There is extraordinary political pressure on wildlife managers to delist grizzlies but politics is outside the purview of the ESA. Decisions are to be made using the best available science. We believe there are legitimate concerns that the science has been built around a desired political outcome rather than on sound peer-reviewed science.
As the highest profile delisting in history, much is riding on successful delisting. USFWS has a responsibility to make decisions with foresight and an eye towards the long term and without regard to the prevailing political environment.
Certainly, grizzlies have come a long way. But it needs to be remembered that grizzlies occupy only 2 percent of their historic range and the bears of Yellowstone remain an isolated population. Where once there were 50,000 to 100,000 in the lower 48, there are now approximately 2000 with some 717 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
They may be tenuously recovered, according to somewhat arbitrary targets set decades ago when there were as few as 136, but compliance with the ESA is about more than hitting pre-determined numeric targets. Compliance requires that the best available science be used to ensure that recovery can be sustained for the foreseeable post-delisting future.
While the population appears to have stabilized in the early 2000s, population growth has been flat since 2007 and there is evidence that a downward trend may be developing. It remains unclear whether that stability is sustainable.
Grizzlies have one of the slowest reproductive rates of any mammal so population trends develop very slowly. It is therefore prudent to proceed slowly. Time must be allowed for these trends to become apparent.
The current conditions surrounding grizzly recovery surely are a recipe to exercise the ESA’s well defined “precautionary principle” which states that if there is doubt about a specie's exact conservation status, the one that would cause the strongest protective measures to be realized should be chosen.
Indeed, a recent study has shown that a significant proportion of wildlife management professionals with grizzly bear experience believe grizzlies should be uplisted to endangered status rather than delisted.
The cost to taxpayers to recover grizzly bears to the current levels is measured in the thens of millions of dollars and decades of time. It would be irresponsible to risk that time and money, including the near-heroic efforts of the USFWS, unless we are certain that recovery that can be sustained and maintained over time.
We believe it is reasonable and prudent to continue ESA protection of the GYE population of grizzly bears until it is clear that the population can be sustained into the future.
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