Mar. 23, 2007 – The federal government yesterday announced the removal of Yellowstoneâ€™s grizzly bears from its threatened and endangered species list, much to the chagrin of conservationists.
Calling their comeback "remarkable," the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said the bears no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. FWS estimates that the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone area, which includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, increased from 136 in 1975 to more than 500 in 2006.
The FWS said four other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states will not be removed from the list.
But despite the governmentâ€™s assurances that the bears are ready for "delisting," many environmental groups disagree, including Sierra Club and the environmental law firm Earthjustice. They say the FWS did not consider the potential repercussions of climate change on the bears. The environmentalists argue that global warming could damage the bearâ€™s ecosystem and threatening their survival.
Environmentalists note, for example, that the whitebark pine tree that the grizzly bear depends on for food is threatened by the tree-eating beetle whose population has increased with warmer temperatures.
The environmentalists also worry that without the "threatened" status, the bearsâ€™ habitat could be open to industrial development, "accelerating the loss of bear habitat and increasing the likelihood of bear-human conflicts and bear deaths," according to Earthjusticeâ€™s website.
The FWS, however, insists the bearsâ€™ welfare will be maintained through a conservation and monitoring strategy. The plan would allow for the bears to be hunted.
In 2006, Sierra Club said it delivered 25,000 petitions urging the government to continue to protect the Yellowstone grizzly bear. Also last year, 250 scientists signed a letter in protest of the possible delisting, saying the bear population still faces threats to its recovery because of its "small size, significant annual fluctuations in mortality rates, inadequate habitat protections, major threats to key foods, genetic risks, and proposed additional human-caused bear mortalities."
"We're disappointed that federal wildlife managers have abdicated their responsibility to protect this magnificent animal," said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold in a press statement, "and we will continue to fight for their survival."