For Immediate Release, December 7, 2015
Feds, States Agree to Conservation Framework to End Federal Protection for Yellowstone Grizzlies
Famed Bears Experiencing Increased Mortality, Declining Population
VICTOR, Idaho— Ignoring increasing bear mortality rates and a declining population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are trying to strike a deal to remove federal protections for Yellowstone's famed grizzly bears, paving the way for state-supported trophy hunts. A proposed rule may be released as early as January and is likely to allow states to reduce the current grizzly bear population by more than 100 bears. Moreover, killing grizzly bears just outside of arbitrary delisting boundaries drawn on a map would be entirely legal and would not count toward mortality thresholds put in place to protect the population from plummeting.
“It’s simply far too soon to remove protections for these grizzly bears,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act has done a great job of helping to recover grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone, but isolation, declining food sources and an increase in human-caused mortality have caused the population to decrease from 757 to 714 bears just this year.”
Although details of talks between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the states have not been public, a WyoFile news story today leaked details of those conversations. While the estimated population of grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park is currently 714, under the deal apparently struck by the Service and the states, the population could decline to as few as 600 bears. A letter from Fish and Wildlife Service to the states notes that hunting and other lethal removals of bears will generally be allowed, but will not be permitted unless necessary to address human safety issues if the population drops below 600 bears.
“Once again we see Director Ashe cutting deals for political expediency instead of following the science,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Endangered Species Act is incredibly effective at recovering imperiled species, and will do so for grizzlies across their range, but only if they retain protections until the science clearly demonstrates recovery.”
Grizzly bear numbers in the Greater Yellowstone area have improved since the animals were first protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, but the bears continue to be threatened by isolation from other grizzly populations, loss of key food sources and human-caused mortalities. Overall grizzly bears occupy less than 2 to 4 percent of their historic U.S. range.
“Recovery isn’t a math equation, it’s a geography question,” said Josh Osher, Montana Director for Western Watersheds Project. “The states’ tentative agreement with the Service fails to ensure connectivity throughout the species’ range and fails to address the livestock operations that are the root cause of lethal conflict for the grizzly bear.”
Historically grizzly bears ranged from Alaska to Mexico, with an estimated 50,000 bears occupying the western half of the contiguous United States. With European settlement of the American West, grizzly bears were shot, poisoned and trapped to near extinction. Today just 1,500 to 1,800 grizzly bears are found in five isolated populations in the northern Rocky Mountains and North Cascades, including about 715 in the Yellowstone area.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit organization with over 121,000 members and activists working to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West.
The mission of Western Watersheds Project is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and legal advocacy.