For Immediate Release, December 12, 2013

Contact:  Louisa Willcox, (406) 224-2250 (cell) or (406)-222-1485

Despite Mounting Threats, Feds Announce Decision to
Strip Endangered Species Protections for Yellowstone Grizzlies

MISSOULA, Mont.— Ignoring mounting evidence that Yellowstone’s grizzly bears face increased threats from loss of key foods and human-caused deaths, federal and state officials unanimously recommended Wednesday that Endangered Species Act protections be stripped from the region’s iconic bears. 

Grizzly bears
Photo courtesy USFWS. This photo is available for media use.

“This highly political proposal comes when the best evidence on the ground suggests the bears are facing significant threats,” said Louisa Willcox, a grizzly bear conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The push to drop protection is being driven by states hostile to large carnivores. But these bears have the lowest reproductive rate of any North American mammal. Hunting and other causes of death are certain to reverse the progress that’s been made toward recovery.” 

In response to Wednesday’s recommendations by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen said the agency will make a final decision about removing federal protections from Yellowstone’s threatened grizzly bears in 30 days, and that delisting could occur in 2014. The move responds to a major push by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to take over management of bears and enact sport hunts, much as they have with wolves.

The recommendation comes on the heels of a study released Dec. 2 by the U.S. Geological Survey that dismisses the effects of losing a key food source, whitebark pine, on the Yellowstone grizzly population. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to consider loss of pine was a primary reason the agency’s previous effort to remove federal protections for the bears was overturned in federal court four years ago.

The Dec. 2 report asserts that the bears can withstand loss of the nutritious pine nuts by turning to many other foods. But the study failed to consider the effects of the loss of another key food, elk, which are projected to continue to decline as a result of drought and climate change, a development that’s likely to increase the risk of conflict and mortality for bears that eat more meat. Many of the scientific papers referenced in the study have not yet been through peer review, in contradiction of science protocols for the USGS.   

“In their desire to please the states, the feds are looking at the bear’s status through rose-colored glasses,” said Willcox. “We’re already seeing greater bear mortality as a result of conflicts related to bears eating more meat, and even potential declines in the population. Loss of protection will only exacerbate these trends.”

A new federal study suggests the grizzly population may have been declining by an average of 4 percent a year since 2008. The decline parallels the loss of whitebark pine and a concurrent spike in bear mortalities. Despite this study the USGS has twice raised its estimates of the bear population in the past year, but steadfastly refused to release the data behind these estimates. 

“The government is cherry-picking the data to get the result it needs to justify delisting, while refusing to release the data it used to reach its conclusions,” said Willcox. “In reality top grizzly researchers say the bear population has likely been in significant decline for five years.”

Delisting of the Yellowstone bears and associated hunting would leave this grizzly bear population permanently isolated from other grizzly bears. This means that bears would need to be trucked into Yellowstone to avoid genetic inbreeding.

“Delisting would leave grizzly bears on permanent life support, and push the bear back to the brink of extinction,” said Willcox. “There’s still a chance to reconnect Yellowstone to other grizzly bear populations and recover grizzly bears in the lower 48, but not if Yellowstone’s population is prematurely delisted and subsequently crashes.”  

To further investigate the rushed effort to delist grizzly bears, the Center filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act today for all documents and interagency correspondence used in developing the USGS study.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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