(EnviroNews Nature) — Washington D.C. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced June 22, 2017, that it has finalized its plan to rescind Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), and turn management of the iconic creature over to three western states — Idaho, Wyoming and Montana — all red states legendary for their predator hunts and even “wolf-killing derbies.”
Once implemented, the rule would open the doors for trophy hunting of the iconic predator, despite the fact that grizzlies occupy only two percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. Environmental groups and conservationists responded with harsh criticism of the federal government, as more wildlife-based lawsuits loom.
In a joint press release titled,”Planned Trophy Hunts Would Fundamentally Undermine Grizzly Recovery,” WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), alongside the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), blasted USFWS saying, “The Service is derailing the recovery of this iconic species by prematurely stripping the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears of federal protections. As a result of today’s announcement, Yellowstone’s bears may soon face a trophy hunter firing line once they roam outside the safety of our beloved national parks.”
“The Service’s determination that an isolated population of 700 grizzlies is fully recovered and no longer in need of federal protections is absurd. It’s a purely political decision devoid of any scientific support,” the press release continued.
But Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, says it’s time to call USFWS’s efforts a “success,” and for the federal government to delist the bear and move on. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Zinke said. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
The USFWS news release on the plan stated:
Due to the success of conservation efforts and collaboration among a variety of stakeholders, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced today that the Yellowstone population of the grizzly bear has been recovered to the point where federal protections can be removed and overall management can be returned to the states and tribes. The population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today and meets all the criteria for delisting.
USFWS first announced it intended to delist the GYE grizzly on March 3, 2016. At the time, local EnviroNews Wyoming reported the draft plan not only called for delisting of the species, but to actually reduce the population from approximately 700 bears to around 500. Based on Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana’s historical track records, it seems almost certain that hunting will be a part of the state-based “management” and “conservation” strategies.
Still, many groups are happy about the delisting decision. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), a group made up of the Forest Service (USFS), Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (USNPS), the state wildlife agencies of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington, as well as the British Columbia Wildlife Branch, the Alberta Wildlife Branch, and Parks Canada cheers the government’s plan and wrote this in a statement last March when USFWS released its draft plan:
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee is encouraged by the announcement by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service that it is beginning the final step in the process to delist the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population. According to IGBC Chair and Director of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife James Unsworth, “It has only been through decades of committed scientific management by IGBC member agencies that the Yellowstone grizzly population has met and exceeded all biological goals set forth in the recovery plan. The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to bring populations back to the point that the states can resume control. In the case of the Yellowstone grizzly we have met that goal.
While government agencies, the states, hunters and ranchers applaud the decision to delist the bear and allow hunts to commence, conservationists fervently disagree, and call the move “a gift to trophy hunting.” One of environmentalists’ main concerns is that the GYE population lacks genetic diversity, and must be allowed to adjoin still unconnected sub-populations — an event they say will only happen if federal ESA protections remain in place.
Kelly Nokes, Carnivore Advocate at WildEarth Guardians, in tandem with Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who “represents Guardians in a forthcoming challenge,” are leading the resistance to USFWS’s plan, and explained the need to continue protecting the bear in their press release:
Full grizzly bear recovery includes establishing natural connectivity between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem sub-population in and around Glacier National Park, and re-establishing a viable population in the Bitterroot Ecosystem. Grizzlies must eventually connect across the six recovery zones, including with the sub-populations of the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yak ecosystems and bears in the North Cascades ecosystem.
Guardians is a prominent environmental non-profit with a track record of high success in suing the federal government for failing to protect endangered species. An epic decade-long legal battle between USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity and Guardians, culminated in a landmark settlement wherein the USFWS agreed to move forward toward protection of some 800 previously imperiled wildlife species. It now looks as if the future of the great GYE grizzly bear will fall yet again to the courts.
FOR AN IN-DEPTH READ ON THE GOVERNMENT’S MOVE TO DELIST THE YELLOWSTONE GRIZZLY, VISIT THE LONG-READ BY ENVIRONEWS WYOMING BELOW:
MORE ON YELLOWSTONE BEARS FROM ENVIRONEWS WYOMING