Could hunters one day be able to harvest a Yellowstone grizzly bear? That day may be coming sooner rather than later. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced this week that in response to the recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly, the agency is proposing to remove the animal from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
“The restoration of the grizzly bear in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho during the last three decades stands as one of America’s great conservation successes—a testament to the value of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the strong partnerships it drives. The Yellowstone grizzly bear population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today,” the service stated in a press release.
A sign of a stable population may indicate that the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, an area that includes parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, may be nearing its carrying capacity for the iconic bears. According to the Los Angles Times, the current number of bears in the area is just slightly above what officials consider the optimum bear population—around 674. The Greater Yellowstone area currently houses nearly half of the grizzly population believed to exist in the Lower 48 states.
“The recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Our proposal today underscores and celebrates more than 30 years of collaboration with our trusted federal, state and tribal partners to address the unique habitat challenges of grizzlies. The final post-delisting management plans by these partners will ensure healthy grizzly populations persist across the Yellowstone ecosystem long into the future.”
Delisting the grizzly will not happen without a fight however. As expected, animal rights groups opposed the proposal when it was announced on Thursday. Other groups, such as the environmental advocacy organization the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), also questioned the logic behind the move during a time where they say bears are vulnerable.
“Yellowstone grizzly bears are an isolated population that is experiencing high levels of conflicts with people and is likely declining in the wake of the loss of whitebark pine, a critically important food source,” senior scientist for the NRDC Sylvia Fallon told CNN.
Officials however, say that a balanced management strategy is needed to keep the bear population healthy. Bears inside Yellowstone National Park are still off-limits to hunters, and if the population drops to 600, officials agreed to immediately halt hunting or lethal management options.
“Even with this proposed delisting, the Service remains committed to the conservation of the Yellowstone grizzly bear, and will stay engaged to ensure that this incredible species remains recovered,” Ashe said. “We will continue to be part of a strong monitoring program, implementation of the conservation strategy, and partnership with our state and federal partners. We are look forward to hearing from the public about the proposal and consulting with Native American tribes.”
Image courtesy Yellowstone National Park