In anticipation of a call from the Bush administration to take the grizzly bear off the threatened species list, the U.S. Forest Service has released a grizzly habitat management plan for the six national forests it operates surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Environmentalists say the plan does not protect enough habitat to ensure that the bear’s recovery takes hold.
The controversial plan calls for protecting grizzly habitat on six million acres throughout the six national forests, and leaves open the possibility of road building, logging and resource development throughout the region. Environmentalists were pushing for a more restrictive plan that would protect eight million acres and limit or prevent development and resource extraction.
Two hundred years ago, 50,000 grizzlies roamed the continental U.S. The population has dwindled to about 1,400 bears today, with half of them living in and around Yellowstone. As in the cases of the bald eagle and the gray wolf, biologists have been surprised at how well protections codified in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 have facilitated grizzly bear recovery. ESA-mandated habitat safeguards have been the key to grizzly recovery, and wildlife activists question whether removing those very protections via delisting makes sense at this point.
“The federal government wants to sign the grizzly bear delisting order with their right hand, while using their left hand to wave goodbye to habitat that grizzly bears require for long-term survival in the U.S. Northern Rockies—their last stronghold in the lower 48 states,” says Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council.