By Cherri Megasko
Yellowstone grizzly bears are at risk of losing their protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. “The Ecologist” on Friday reported that “The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Committee recently recommended to the US Fish and Wildlife Service that the bears be de-listed.”
This recommendation comes despite the fact that Yellowstone grizzly bear food sources are declining at a rapid rate. The mass die-off of Whitebark pine trees caused by infestations of the mountain pine beetle is perhaps the most troubling. Pine nuts from the Whitebark pine tree contribute as much as 50 percent of a Yellowstone grizzly bear’s dietary fat. This is nutrition they cannot recover through eating other sources of food, because fat is crucial for female grizzlies to remain healthy enough to reproduce. Due to drought and climate change, other Yellowstone grizzly bear food sources – like cutthroat trout and elk – are declining as well.
If the Committee is successful at getting the grizzly bear removed from the Endangered Species List, trophy hunting would become legal and grizzly bears could be shot the moment they step foot outside of Yellowstone National Park. This is particularly disturbing since the Park makes up only about 20 percent of the Yellowstone grizzly bear’s habitat.
In addition, de-listing would likely result in populations outside of Yellowstone National Park being obliterated, making it impossible for the species to spread and repopulate other areas of their natural range. Grizzly bears from other areas would have to be transported and relocated inside the Park to avoid interbreeding, which could eventually wipe out the species inside the Park as well.
Grizzly bear conservation advocate, Louisa Willcox, says, "There's still a chance to reconnect Yellowstone to other grizzly bear populations and recover grizzly bears in the lower 48, but not if Yellowstone's population is prematurely delisted and subsequently crashes."