For Immediate Release, June 26, 2014

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121

Grizzly Bears Need Continued Endangered Species Act Protection to
Survive, Conservation Groups Say

Removal of Bears’ Protection in Yellowstone Would Hurt Recovery in Idaho,
Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California and Southwest

WASHINGTON— In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today, eight conservation groups from across the western United States called on the agency to complete a range-wide review of the grizzly bear’s conservation status before initiating the process, later this year, of delisting a group of bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as is widely expected.

Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear photos are available for media use.

“Grizzly bears live on only 4 percent of the lands they once roamed in the lower 48 states,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the Service moves to delist the Yellowstone bear population — one of the few populations the agency has made any effort to recover — it’ll declare the job done and close the door on recovering these magnificent animals across other parts of their historic range, just as it’s trying to do with gray wolves.”

When the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the gray wolf in 2013, it argued that the earlier, 2011 delisting of the “Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment” of wolves invalidated other gray wolf protections across the rest of the United States. If the Service delists the Yellowstone grizzly population, the original 1975 listing of the grizzly bear would likely suffer a similar legal fate.

“The health of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has improved — but it’s way too early to declare victory and walk away from a species that once roamed as far south as the Sierra mountains of Mexico, down the Pacific coast and out onto the Great Plains,” Hartl said. “We need to bring these iconic bears back in Colorado, California, the Northwest and the Southwest.”

Extensive areas of suitable habitat for grizzly bears exist across the western United States. A legal petition filed by the Center last week identified more than 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly habitat in places like the Gila/Mogollon complex in Arizona and New Mexico, Utah’s Uinta Mountains, California’s Sierra Nevada and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. If additional recovery efforts are initiated in this area, grizzly bear populations could expand from roughly 1,500 today to as many as 6,000 bears. But none of this will happen if the Service ends protections in Yellowstone.

Since grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, the Service has pursued a fragmented approach to grizzly bear recovery that fails to meet the goal of the Endangered Species Act to recover species across significant portions of their historic range. So far the agency has only carried out on-the-ground conservation efforts in the Greater Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems. Despite having developed recovery strategies in the North Cascades and Selway-Bitterroot, nothing has been done to recover bears there. Delisting Yellowstone would put recovery in those areas in severe jeopardy, and would virtually ensure that no recovery efforts ever occurred elsewhere in the United States.

Groups calling for continued grizzly bear recovery across the western United States include Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Rocky Mountain Wild, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Friends of the Clearwater, Cascadia Wildlands, and Idaho Conservation League.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and supporters dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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