Note: This story was updated with new information at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3. -Ed.
Federal wildlife officials on Friday morning announced they will again consider surrendering management of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears, giving jurisdiction to the states.
The news came in the form of a “90-day finding” in response to petitions submitted by Wyoming, Montana and Idaho early last year. Federal officials were persuaded by Montana and Wyoming’s petitions, but told Idaho wildlife managers their petition did not contain “substantial, credible information” and to go back to the drawing board.
It’s Fish and Wildlife Service’s third attempt in 16 years to cease Endangered Species Act protections for the isolated population of grizzlies that dwell in the tri-state Yellowstone region. Additionally, the agency is looking into delisting the Northern Continental Divide’s population of northern Montana-dwelling grizzlies.
The immediate next step, the service announced: A “comprehensive status review” of grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The analysis will use the “best available scientific and commercial data.”
Reactions to the preliminary grizzly bear decision poured in Friday.
Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Jamie Rappaport Clark, who now presides over Defenders of Wildlife, called the agency’s move “premature.
“… delisting would condemn these vitally important animals to the whim of current state politics in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho where they are openly hostile to predator species like grizzly bears,” Clark said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, meanwhile, branded the announcement “welcome news for Wyoming” in a press release. “I’m hopeful the decision to delist the grizzly is not impacted by out-of-state environmental extremists who don’t truly understand the science.”
At the population’s nadir in the 1970s, grizzly bears were seldom seen outside of Yellowstone National Park and estimated numbers in the region dipped as low as 136. Since then, numbers of the slow-reproducing ursine have grown by 4% to 7% a year. The population eclipsed recovery goals around the turn of the century and now exceeds an estimated 1,000 grizzlies. Although grizzly recovery can be painted as a success story, just a fraction of the estimated 50,000 bears estimated to exist before the western settlement era are found on the landscape today.
Debates have raged over whether the states are well suited to manage the federally threatened species, a controversy that stems largely from prior state plans to reduce the population with hunting. Lawsuits from environmental advocacy groups have overturned the two prior attempts at delisting Yellowstone-region grizzlies. In 2007, the decision hinged on federal wildlife managers’ lack of understanding of how the decline of whitebark pine — its seeds are a major grizzly food source — would impact the species. In 2017, the federal government’s second attempt to cede grizzly jurisdiction to the states was overturned on the basis of concerns about genetic diversity and what happens when population numbers are “recalibrated” by scientists changing the way they count bears.
Since then the three Northern Rocky states have forged a pact, outlining how they’ll cooperate and attempting to address the court’s concerns. In response to genetic concerns, for example, the states pledged to translocate at least two grizzly bears from outside the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem into the region if natural migration doesn’t occur first.
Wyoming pledged to maintain a target population of at least 932 Yellowstone-region grizzly bears — the 2002-2019 average — in its petition. Hunting would be halted if numbers ever fall below 831 bears, the document stated.
A long process — an in-depth status review, proposed rule, final rule and multiple periods of public input — will precede any potential grizzly bear jurisdiction shift.
Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik’s agency is ready to manage grizzly bears “at a moment’s notice,” he said in a press release.
“Game and Fish has a strong track record of managing grizzly bears during the times they have been delisted in the past,” Nesvik said.
But the Center for Biological Diversity environmental attorney Andrea Zaccardi viewed the states’ track records through the opposite lens.
“After approving the all-out slaughter of wolves, Montana officials have proven they can’t be trusted to make science-based wildlife decisions,” Zaccardi said. “Our nation’s beloved grizzlies deserve better.”
Fish and Wildlife will start accepting public comments on the 90-day finding document starting Monday. Input will inform the in-depth status review. Submit comments at regulations.gov, docket number: FWS-R6-ES-2022-0150.
To help me make the best public comment please suggest talking points.
The Feds should be decoupling hunting from delisting. There are millions more people who want to see a grizzly than those desiring to shoot one. USFWS needs to acknowledge the value of grizzlies to the ecosystem, the indigenous community’s ask to not hunt the Great Bear since it is sacred to the tribes, and how the hunting community is teeny tiny compared with the wildlife watching community. Grizzlies might have been delisted long ago if the bear was treated like the Bald Eagle and not hunted. In addition, the work of restoring grizzlies has not been completed. There are still no connective corridors between the GYC and NCDE. And no grizzlies in the Bitterroots.
What is it with people from Montana and Wyoming that just love to kill.aka hunting wildlife. Wildlife like Bears, Wolves or Elk for that matter. Elk maybe for eating. But Wolves and Bears should be protected from hunting altogether. There are 1000 bears in Wyoming and there are 576000 humans living 97,914 square miles.. Protection for these animals should be stronger and not weaker. It is not about science as much it is about being civilized. Hunting predators is killing another being that poses no threat to humankind. Killing for no purpose except for fun is barbaric. Since, the people of Montana and Wyoming seem intent on killing, the Federal Wildlife should rightly fear for the very survival of these species.
It’s laughable that WY MT ID all claim they are great at “managing” grizzlies (and wolves). They talk about science–meaning that they want to keep # of carnivores at the MINIMUM # estimated to help them survive–so the Minimum # becomes the Maximum for these states. Do a survey–see whether people prefer more grizzlies & wolves on public lands or cattle. Show some courage–state wildlife officials!
I take it you are a vegetarian and do not eat meat right? Decreasing the ability to raise beef and mutton will cause less production and availability at a reasonable price to hungry humans. I remember when the wolves were first imported and released, an elderly rancher in Montana, who had kept a small herd found the entire herd killed INSIDE of their pen when he got up one morning.
All the Wyoming beef could disappear overnight and the national beef market would not even hiccup. Hardly anyone, excepting niche markets, even eats lamb and mutton these days, so there would be little effect if Wyoming sheep farmers all went under, too. Mutton consumption has been declining dramatically since the 1950s. Don’t you ever get tired of subsidizing these hangers-on? Izzat the “cow(sheep)boy way”?
“The science”. You’ve got to be kidding! De-listing the grizzly is nothing but ludicrous. These people don’t depend on bears for food. All they want is a rug you can throw on the floor. What kind of petitions do you have in Wyoming anyway?
If the Grizzly does not come off the endangered list and allow the states to manage them how they deem appropriate Wyoming needs to dig their heels in. What do I mean by that? Wyoming has spent over 50 million dollars on managing an animal they can’t manage since the grizzly was listed back in 1974. The Wyoming Game & Fish Dept. has a Grizzly Bear management plan, but it is more of a monitoring plan. If these Grizzlies don’t come off the endangered list this time Wyoming needs to say enough is enough, we are not spending one more dime on an animal we can’t manage, period!!
Agree. If we can’t adequately manage them stop the money.
If the feds believe any promise made by Wyo guvamint, they are even dumber than I thought. Wyo guvamint serves livestock farmers (who produce about a percent and a half of the national beef supply), windmill and solar panel builders and oil companies, period.
This is a conservation victory no matter which side your opinion falls on Grizzly Bear management; Grizzlies are doing great and expanding their range way beyond the designated recovery zone!
They are a beautifully ferocious and important asset in the region and deserve dedicated management as the apex predator in our area. No other group of professionals is better equipped than the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to do so. I applaud the US Fish and Wildlife Service for taking the next step in returning management to the states per our model of wildlife management that has afforded us the diverse and thriving wildlife populations that most other countries have squandered.