Grizzlies have been reduced to two percent of their historic numbers.© Getty Images
A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, has filed a lawsuit in Idaho federal court challenging a recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to remove endangered species protection from the population of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. The suit calls on the federal agency to restore the Yellowstone grizzly to threatened status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They cite ongoing and threatened habitat destruction, insufficient bear population numbers and less-than-adequate state species recovery plans.
Grizzly bears, otherwise known as brown bears, have been reduced to one percent of their historic range and two percent of their historic numbers in the U.S. as a result of systematic predator control efforts and habitat destruction associated with increased human population in the American west. Prior to the announcement of the FWS delisting decision, a group of 270 scientists urged the agency to keep federal protections intact, primarily because the current grizzly population is too small and isolated for long-term viability.
The delisting decision subjects grizzlies who wander or live outside of Yellowstone National Park to hunting in all three surrounding states (Idaho, Wyoming and Montana). Additionally, the federal delisting plan leaves no habitat protection for more than 40 percent of the territory in the bears" current range. Millions of acres within the greater Yellowstone ecosystem that constitute prime grizzly habitat would be open to increased motorized access, logging and oil and gas development. Destroying such buffer lands could be particularly dangerous with global warming leading to habitat shifts that could send bears foraging for food in more developed, less protected regions.
Besides NRDC and the Sierra Club, the other groups named as plaintiffs on the lawsuit include the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Great Bear Foundation and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation have also supported efforts to block the Yellowstone grizzly delisting.