Feds taking comment on plan to hand over management to states
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Conservation groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity say a federal plan for Yellowstone grizzly bears puts their fate in the hands of states that are “culturally hostile” to large carnivores. The recovery plan could put grizzlies back on the road toward extinction, the group warned in their comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wildlife conservation advocates are also worried that the plan doesn’t do enough to safeguard connectivity between populations. They want the federal wildlife 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 last week. 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 hunted to the brink of extinction. 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 and 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.
The comments from conservation groups also challenge the USFWS’s assessment of grizzly bear populations. After analyzing federal data, independent wildlife biologists say the population is actually 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.