Brushing aside mounting evidence that Yellowstone’s grizzly bears face increased threats from genetic isolation, loss of key foods, and increased human conflicts and mortalities, federal and state officials are recommending removal of Endangered Species Act protections for the bears as early as next year.
At the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee meetings in Bozeman today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen fell short of setting a timeline for removing federal protections for Yellowstone’s threatened grizzly bears. But citing unpublished studies and unreleased data, Servheen and federal scientists said the grizzly population is robust and healthy. The states argued they are ready to take over management of the bears, which, like wolves, would be aggressively hunted under state plans. The agencies’ recommendation to delist grizzly bears was conditioned upon release of a final scientific report, due at the end of November.
“This highly political, fast-tracked plan to drop federal protections for grizzly bears plays Russian roulette with a population that is still imperiled and facing significant new threats,” said Louisa Willcox, a grizzly bear conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the loss of important foods, the world of the Yellowstone grizzly is unraveling. Now is not the time to turn over the keys to management to states that are known to be hostile to large carnivores and plan to renew a grizzly bear hunt.”
Removal of protections for bears is being justified by purported increases in the bear population that are based on models showing the population number is now 741 bears, up from previous estimates, announced earlier this year, of roughly 600 bears. But the Fish and Wildlife Service and federal scientists have repeatedly refused to release the data that supposedly shows there are more bears.
“There’s no way to know if these are paper bears or real bears, because the government has refused to release the taxpayer-funded data and analyses upon which its findings were based,” said Willcox.
A study published earlier this year by leading scientists questions the accuracy of the Service’s optimistic bear trends. The study offers evidence that the agency’s estimates of the population size and trend are likely inflated due to data-collection biases and inaccuracies, including the incorrect assumption that female grizzlies reproduce at maximum rate until the age of 25 to 30. More....