Word leaked out last week that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is ready to submit a formal proposal to take grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park off the federal Endangered Species List next year. According to agency officials, recovery efforts for Yellowstone’s grizzlies, which began in earnest in the 1980s, are now complete, with the population having doubled in the last two decades.
But others, including some agency biologists as well as many environmentalists, disagree with the delisting proposal, citing on-going threats to Yellowstone’s grizzlies, including the lack of suitable food sources to maintain the population at its current size. “Almost certainly, we will see some level of decline in the carrying capacity of this area for bears,” says U.S. Geological Survey biologist David Mattson, who has studied the Yellowstone grizzlies and their environment extensively since recovery efforts began.
A coalition of environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is threatening to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service if it puts its delisting proposal through next year. “If the future looks different than today, why take chances? Delisting is about taking chances,” says NRDC’s grizzly bear program coordinator Louisa Willcox.
Meanwhile, everyone agrees that the future success of Yellowstone’s grizzlies—whether technically “threatened” or not—is dependent on opening up linkages with other ecosystems that also support grizzly populations so that bears can migrate and intermingle.
“We want to preserve opportunities for bears to move across large blocks of public lands. We’re trying to make those opportunities available,” says Chris Servheen, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist behind the delisting proposal.