Reported by Jessica Rae Patton
A Montana federal district court ruled last week to return Endangered Species Act protections to the grizzly bear population of Yellowstone National Park. In the case, brought by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), it was ruled that when federal protections were dropped in 2007, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) neither put adequate management techniques in place nor addressed the loss of a primary food source for the bears. According to the GYC, "In the past two years grizzly mortality has risen alarmingly due largely to conflicts with hunters. Their future remains precarious because of habitat issues and a potential decline in food sources due to climate change." A record 79 bears died last year, or 13% of the population, according to federal estimates. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) states that "Whitebark pine forests [the seeds of which are an essential food source for the bears] are being decimated throughout their range by an array of threats that have emerged in high elevation environments as a result of climate change." NRDC petitioned to have the tree added to the federal Endangered Species List in December 2008.
"As we lose whitebark pine, we need to redouble efforts to anticipate and reduce conflicts with people," warns NRDC senior wildlife advocate Louisa Willcox. "That means making sure people keep clean camps and yards, carry bear spray and are prepared to stay safe in grizzly country."
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and six other groups, represented by Earthjustice, have a similar case pending in Idaho.
"This has been a hard year for grizzlies in the Northern Rockies, with at least 18 bears already being killed in the region," says Willcox. "That body count simply underscores the need for further protection."