This past June, the Interior Department announced that the Yellowstone grizzly bear will be removed from the endangered species list. The Yellowstone grizzly bear was one of the first species to be put on the list under the 1973 law, but now, after 42 years they will lose their protected status, putting them in danger of being hunted for sport.
Removal from the Endangered Species List
The decision to remove Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list has been debated for years because of their significant population increase throughout the park. Their numbers were fewer than 150 but have now grown to over 700. Back in 2007 the Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to remove the Yellowstone grizzlies from the list, but the federal court overruled their decision. During this time the whitebark pine was in decline due to the insects that infected the area as the region’s temperatures rose. Since whitebark pine is considered an important food source for the grizzlies, the federal court decided to keep the Yellowstone grizzly bears on the list.
Since then their protection status has been under discussion, but this past June the federal government has made their decision. They believe that since the Yellowstone grizzly bears have been protected for 42 years, the population will now have the ability to thrive without protection status. According to Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior Department, “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.”
This rule to remove Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list will soon be published in the Federal Registrar. 30 days after it is published, the rule will take into effect. The federal government has said that this ruling will not affect the protected status of other major grizzly bear populations. There are about another 1,000 grizzly bears that live in the lower 48 states and in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park. But some experts believe that these populations may also be threatened with the removal of protection status.
A Highly Political Ruling
This ruling is being opposed by many conservation groups and Native American tribes. They believe that climate change puts the grizzly bears and Yellowstone National Park in a position of ecological uncertainty. By removing the Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, their population in the park could once again be decimated.
What’s more, taking grizzlies off of the endangered species list also opens the door to the possibility of hunting these animals outside of national parks - an unthinkable act for some.
According to the New York Times, dozens of Native American tribes, tribal associations and others from Canada and the United States have opposed the delisting by signing the Grizzly Treaty. They consider the grizzly bears as sacred and are displeased with the government for failing to consult with them. Brandon Sazue, the chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe says that, “[we are] one of the Associated Tribes of Yellowstone, and yet we were completely ignored in this delisting process, despite our declaration, our resolution and petition for inclusion.” In rebuttal, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, Christina Meister, said that “agency officials had met numerous times with tribes on this issue during the delisting process.”
Despite the backlash against the ruling, the federal government is still moving forward with delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bears. But those opposed to the new rule are not backing down without a fight. A Montana based non-profit, Western Environmental Law Center, will intervene on behalf of conservation groups and file a lawsuit. Matt Bishop of the Law Center said, “we have to wait 60 days [after the rule is set in place], but on the 61st day we will sue to stop the delisting.”