The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced this week that it was moving forward with work to delist the grizzly bear. According to FWS, we could see the removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone grizzly by the end of the year.
FWS’s next steps are to conduct an analysis of threats to grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region, prior to making any decision to remove important Endangered Species Act protections for the bears.
Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for USFWS said the Service will determine – based upon the threat analysis – whether or not it should draft a proposed rule to “delist” the bears by the end of the year, and would make a final decision following a public comment period as called for by law.
Grizzly bears have by some accounts rebounded successfully in the Yellowstone region, including a record-high 58 females with cubs counted in the Yellowstone ecosystem this year. However, as we’ve written before, bears in Yellowstone have yet to connect naturally to other populations of bears in Montana – something that is important for long-term genetic health. Part of FWS plan for recovering bears includes trucking them from region to region in order to ensure genetic diversity, in the event that natural connectivity has not occurred by the year 2020. ESC strongly advocates that bear populations have natural connectivity—that different populations have wildlife corridors enabling them to reach each other. Additionally, independent scientists have not yet had a chance to peer-review much of the data and studies the Service is using to inform their decision.
The rebound in the Yellowstone grizzly bear population from a low of about 150 bears to around 700 today is a huge testament to the success of the Endangered Species Act in protecting and recovering wildlife from the brink of extinction. We want to make sure that FWS is careful to continue this success. We must not slide backwards. We will monitor developments, and assess potential threats to the bears, and we will post more information about the proposal as it becomes available.