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For Immediate Release, June 20, 2013

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

New Analysis: Federal Plan Would Hurt Yellowstone's Grizzly Bears

As Comment Period Closes on Plan to Guide Removal of Protections for Bears,
Conservationists and Scientists Criticize Harmful Plan

LIVINGSTON, Mont.— The Center for Biological Diversity and seven other conservation organizations submitted comments today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service arguing that a recently proposed recovery plan for Yellowstone grizzly bears puts the animals’ population at greater risk of extinction, by allowing the removal of its protections despite lack of connectivity with other populations and ongoing threats to the bears. The comments call on the agency to maintain Endangered Species Act protections for the bears until these issues can be resolved.

“This plan would reverse nearly 30 years of hard-fought progress toward restoring Yellowstone’s magnificent grizzlies. It would put bears that have been recovering right back in intensive care,” said Louisa Willcox, a northern Rockies conservationist with the Center. “By condemning Yellowstone’s grizzlies to permanent isolation from other grizzly bears, this plan would rob the iconic bears of a secure and healthy future.”

The comment period for the recovery plan closed on today. More than 40,000 Center activists from around the country, as well as a number of preeminent scientists, submitted comments raising serious concerns that it falls short of what’s needed to recover Yellowstone’s grizzlies.

The plan locks grizzly bears out of crucial habitat they will need to compensate for the recent collapse of two out of four of Yellowstone’s key grizzly bear foods. Climate change and the introduction of nonnative species have devastated both whitebark pine and cutthroat trout, forcing bears to forage for food more closely to people, where, not surprisingly, they are coming into greater conflict and dying at unsustainably high rates. Instead of redoubling efforts to reduce bear deaths, the Fish and Wildlife Service is exacerbating the problem by paving the way for the states to allow hunting of grizzly bears.

“By turning the keys to management over to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, which are culturally hostile to large carnivores, Fish and Wildlife will recreate the very conditions that landed the grizzly bear on the endangered species list in 1975,” said Willcox.

Within 200 years after European settlement, grizzly bears were eliminated from 99 percent of the lands where they once lived as a result of excessive killing and habitat destruction. Without the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears would likely already be extinct even in the nation’s oldest park, Yellowstone.

Because of their large home ranges, of several hundred square miles, and their sensitivity to development, grizzly bears are considered barometers of the health of the ecosystems where they live. Where grizzlies are healthy, so are the rich array of other wildlife species — from native fish to bighorn sheep — that make the wild places where they find refuge so special. 

The Center’s letter also found that measures of the status of the population are biased and unreliable. Even using federal data that does not correct for these problematic biases, the Center found that the population is declining.

“It doesn’t matter if there are 400 or 800 grizzly bears in Yellowstone — if they’re on a downhill slide, as the federal data shows, then they are headed for extinction,” said Willcox. “Unplugging their life support now is tragically wrong, and a clear betrayal of the public trust.” 

Earthjustice worked with the Center for Biological Diversity to craft the detailed comments, along with many independent scientists who analyzed the plan and pointed out its significant flaws.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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