Rush to Remove Federal Protections Could Threaten Grizzly Bear Recovery
Posted December 13, 2013
A committee composed of state and federal agencies met in Missoula, Montana, this week to discuss the status of grizzlies in the lower 48 states, particularly the Yellowstone population. The committee was presented with a final version of the report summarized at the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meeting last month in Bozeman. Based on this report, the agencies recommended that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service move ahead with a proposal to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone grizzlies.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) intended for the report to address the threat of the widespread loss of whitebark pine in the Yellowstone ecosystem. But after a close look, there are still a number of concerns about the research conducted, the conclusions made by the study team, and the status of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population.
The “final” report is based on several studies that have not been published yet and therefore cannot be evaluated by the public or independent scientists. Additionally, the study team told the committee that grizzly bears have been able to adapt to the loss of whitebark pine seeds as a food source, but the report does not adequately address the possible consequences of shifting to other foods. For example, there are greater risks to females and their cubs feeding on meat instead of whitebark pine seeds. Furthermore, the trend of the population size is critical to the recovery of grizzly bears. And, based on the best available science, it remains unclear if the size of the population is stabilizing or decreasing.
Given continued uncertainties and questions about data that are still unavailable, it is premature for the IGBC to conclude that Yellowstone grizzlies no longer need Endangered Species Act protections. The landscape in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has changed dramatically in a very short period of time, and what is needed is a careful review of the impact this is having on the area’s grizzly bears. The ultimate decision on whether to act on the committee’s recommendation falls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Service would be wise to make sure it has all the answers to these questions as well as meaningful input from the public and independent scientists before it decides to remove Endangered Species Act protections from Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population.
When it comes to Yellowstone’s iconic grizzlies, don’t you think we owe them at least that much?
(Photo: Christine Wilcox)
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