Yellowstone Grizzlies May Lose Protection

Yellowstone"s grizzlies are back from the brink of extinction, but supporters say they need protection to stay there.© U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Environmentalists are vowing to fight a federal proposal to remove endangered species protection from the free-ranging Yellowstone grizzly bear population inhabiting parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. They hope to muster enough support to overturn the plans of a Bush administration intent on saving money by declaring the Yellowstone grizzly a wildlife success story—like the bald eagle and the gray wolf.

"There is simply no way to overstate what an amazing accomplishment this is," Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett told reporters upon announcing the grizzly delisting plan. According to Scarlett, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will turn over management of grizzly bears outside Yellowstone National Park to the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. About a third of the 600 or so Yellowstone grizzlies live outside the protections of Yellowstone National Park, and would be particularly vulnerable to hunting, which Montana and Wyoming will allow. Perhaps an even larger issue for the long-term survival of the Yellowstone grizzlies is the development on surrounding lands currently protected thanks to their importance as habitat for endangered bears.

"The government is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory," says Louisa Willcox, director of the Wild Bears Project for the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "When you consider that they were nearly extinct 30 years ago, Yellowstone’s grizzlies have made a remarkable recovery," she says. "But they’ve survived only because of the Endangered Species Act, and they’re not out of the woods yet."

Willcox adds that NRDC is working with a coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice in opposing delisting the bears before the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal has been made law.

Sources: Natural Resource Defense Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition