Biologists and federal officials are still analyzing whether the grizzly bear should be de-listed from Endangered Species Act protection.


by Scott Streater, E&E reporter

Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead is calling on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to act quickly and develop a rule removing federal protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, arguing that the iconic predators are thriving in the region.

Mead wrote this week in a one-page letter to Jewell that there is more than enough research and data to validate removing the Yellowstone area grizzlies from the list of plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. And he referenced a letter Jewell had written to him in September 2013 in which she said a decision on the status of the Yellowstone population would be coming by early this year.

“The recovery of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem is a conservation success story of our time,” Mead wrote.

“Wyoming has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and other state and federal agencies to compile and evaluate food sources data and the effect of those food sources on grizzly bear populations in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” he added. “This work substantiates that grizzly bears forage on a broad variety of food. Science demonstrates grizzly bears are expanding — in population and geography — beyond recovery criteria established by FWS and the State of Wyoming.”

Mead pointed to a December report by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team — established in 1973 to collaboratively monitor and manage bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem — that found grizzlies will adapt and thrive despite the collapse of the whitebark pine trees in the region that serve as a key protein source for bears before they go into hibernation. The study team’s report was seen by some as a critical step forward to clearing the way for the bears to be removed from the endangered species list (E&ENews PM, Dec. 11, 2013).

(click to enlarge)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a delisting rule for the grizzly bear.

“All regulatory requirements and biological objectives have been met or exceeded,” Mead wrote to Jewell. “It is appropriate to publish a delisting proposal and return management of the grizzly bear to the State of Wyoming and other states in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

Jessica Kershaw, an Interior Department spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., confirmed they have received the governor’s letter and are reviewing it.

But the Fish and Wildlife Service won’t be in a position to recommend for or against delisting the bear until it completes a detailed threats analysis this fall, said Chris Servheen, the service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator in Missoula, Mont.

That analysis, which he said has been ongoing since December, is required by the Endangered Species Act to be completed before any decision can be made whether to delist a federally listed species.

“This is not a political decision, it’s a science decision,” Servheen said, adding that the threats analysis will “determine if we have the confidence to determine that the species is recovered.”

“We’re not there yet, and we haven’t made a final decision,” he said.

That differs slightly from what FWS Director Dan Ashe has said publicly in recent months.

Ashe told Greenwire in December that it was likely the service would propose lifting ESA protections in the coming months, noting the interagency study team report that “seems to indicate what we thought before, that grizzly bears are pretty opportunistic” and “can find other food sources” if whitebark pine is not available (Greenwire, Dec. 12, 2013).

But Gavin Shire, an FWS spokesman in Arlington, Va., said today that the service is still “evaluating the status of the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with regards to a potential delisting proposal.”

FWS officials have said it would likely take about six months to develop a delisting rule.

“We do not have a timeline for this process,” Shire said in an email. “If proposed, the rule would go through a transparent process, including a public comment period.”

A long, contentious history

Mead’s letter is the latest in the ongoing legal battle over the status of the bear, which was originally listed as threatened in 1975. Since that time, population numbers have more than doubled to 600 in the region that includes Yellowstone National Park and portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Copies of Mead’s letter to Jewell were sent to Ashe, as well as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R).

The growth in numbers has led to some fatal bear attacks on people in recent years; some Western state leaders have expressed a desire to allow grizzly hunts.

FWS delisted the grizzlies in 2007, but that was quickly challenged and the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana reversed the decision in 2009, finding that regulations were not strong enough and that the service had not fully considered threats posed by the decline of whitebark pine.

The decision was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in November 2011 upheld the lower court’s judgment on whitebark pine, while ruling existing regulations were adequate (E&ENews PM, Nov. 22, 2011).

Environmental groups have had differing opinions on whether to delist the grizzlies in the Yellowstone region.

Some say considering the health of the Yellowstone population separate from the overall population is wrong, since they represent about 2 percent of the bear’s historic range. The better approach is to determine whether grizzlies overall are thriving, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Portland, Ore.

On that issue, Greenwald said, “I would say overall that grizzly bears are nowhere near recovery.”

“We should not be looking at grizzlies just in Yellowstone and whether that population is recovered, but whether grizzlies are recovered overall,” he added. “The Yellowstone population remains isolated. For the grizzly bear to be recovered, they need to be recovered over a large portion of their range.”

But Mead has been a big proponent for several years of delisting the Yellowstone population of grizzlies.

Mead in 2012 wrote former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to remove the federal protections for grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, noting at the time that the state had spent more than $35 million in bear recovery in the previous two years (Greenwire, May 30, 2012).

Salazar indicated in a letter two months later that he wanted to lift federal protections for the Yellowstone grizzlies (Greenwire, July 24, 2012).

Mead is keeping the pressure on Jewell for a delisting decision.

“Based on your September 2013 letter, I had expected to see a delisting decision in early 2014,” Mead wrote in his letter to Jewell. “There is no reason to wait. I encourage the FWS to work with Wyoming Game and Fish Department to develop and publish a proposed delisting rule expediently.”

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  1. Tim H-

    Utopian ? hardly . let’s go for pragmatic populism instead. A level playing field. It’s not nor never has been Human vs. Grizzly bears. There has to be coexistence. But as is, the bear is nowhere near the parity it deserves before we start ” managing” it. it is only in the interests of revity tha I did not unload everything on my truck here, verbally.

    And by the way , you are not the new apex predator. That’s the arrogance I was referring to. Take away the guns and honed steel blade, and Homo sapiens is right where they belong…7th down the list on the food chain. At least six predators above you who will have you for lunch. Your guns and arrows do not impart any rights of supremacy, only self defense and hunter-gathering chores. Know your place. ( Outfitter’s place is vastly overstated, too , if you are the Tim H I believe you to be )

    The bear’s place ? It necessarily requires a lot more space and population than one national zoo in upper Wyoming.

  2. Dewey,
    Your synopsis above of your bear wonderland was entertaining to say the least that was till the end when the true colors emerged. Let’s see tree hugger-bear lover or any other sort of names come to mind.

    Tell me Dewey quote me the last time a gun killed someone without outside influence . I’m still waiting for that info.

    In your utopian world all animals would be re-instated to pre modern man times.
    And if you take the time to look around those times have come and gone to never return. The best we can do is make a little room for the beloved critters and leave it at that. The days of grizzlies roaming all over the country is over as the apex predator has arose, the top dog so to speak (Man).

    You and your kind need to realize this, the sooner the better so you can feel good again.

    The thing that gets me is the so called experts set goals and top numbers to achieve recovery, everybody agrees with the numbers but when the goals have been exceeded it is not enough-you state that the grizzlies are only 2% recovered but that number puts them over the goal numbers established by both sides. Seems to me every time the goal is reached the goal posts are moved.

    Same thing happened or is happening with the wolf fiasco.

    You Dewey and your type need to quit using emotions to further your agenda as it is getting a little old at this point.

    Set some goals-achieve them and move on. but I know that will never happen as there will never be enough wolves or grizzlies for you to move on.

  3. We humans think we know what is best for the Great Bear. How foolish of us.

    We don’t implement a bear management plan: we write People Plans. We want bears to conform to human expectations and respect human boundaries and live inside human political subdivisions and play by human rules . Wyoming’s working concept of grizzly management is to keep all the bears inside an artificial ” Zoo Zone” surrounding Yellowstone. The politically correct name is Primary Conservation Area. There is no secondary. (Everywhere else is a high probability kill zone for wayward bears) . The map line of that PCA zone is not defined by the bears and the habitat. Instead we use highways, county lines, bureaucratic allotment lines and agency boundaries. Bears are not known to be regular map readers, and do not carry smartphones with Google Maps installed. They follow their nose.

    There is an immense amount of suitable grizzly bear habitat in the Northern Rockies, but the State’s and even engaged federal planners have no plans to allow bears to migrate to those areas beyond Wyoming’s Zoo Zone, the sole source of grizzly population till you get much nearer to the Canadian border. So it’s no bears for elsewhere in Wyoming, the Uinta mountains of Utah , anywhere in Colorado like the San Juans, or central Idaho, among other habitats. Right there you realize that grizzly planning is fatally flawed and probably not meeting the requirements of the ESA.

    It is doubtful that ANY number of bears kept inside Wyoming’s Zoo Zone would persist for more than about 150 yeas due to genetic degradation. Climate change would likely shorten that further. It is doubtful that the Whitebark pine will recover in time to benefit future grizzlies. Loss of alpine Army cutworm moths due to pesticides in the Great Plains and climate change all around is compelling. Recent studies are showing with greater certainty that climate change is altering the vegetation cycle rather remarkably , and that affects every animal specie , even pure carnivores like wolves and cougars.

    It is utter abject arrogance for us humans to presume we really know what works for the grizzly bear. But this is certain: the proposals to delist grizzlies and start state ” management” are full of holes and the specter of special interests that have little or no bearing on the real needs of the bear over the long haul. Managing grizzlies for dollars and socioeconomic curves makes about as much sense as selling more home refrigerators to halt the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

    Speaking of the money , there is an utterly preposterous statement in this article about the cost of Wyoming’s management of Grizzly bears being $ 35 million in two years. That is either a gross editorial misquote or a hyperbolic exaggeration by Guv Mead for propaganda disinformation purposes. ( I believe that to be the total cost spent by Wyoming over the past 15 years or so in unadjusted dollars) According the Wyo G&F’s own budget lines, the department’s Grizzly management has spent a steady amount ranging from $ 1.2 million per year to $ 1.9 million since 2007. That is roughly the same as it spent on Bighorn sheep and not much more than Pheasants. Only one big game species pays its own way in hunting license revenues, that being Pronghorn , due to sheer numbers of tags sold and relative degree of difficulty targetting the fleet beast. All other species- even ubiquitous Elk and Deer- require subsidy to cover the cost of their management beyond hunting tag revenues. If anyone believes that trophy hunting of grizzlies would do much to cover the State’s management costs, think again : the licenses for the estimated 10-12 bears taken annually would have to sell for north of $ 125,000 per tag. Like that’s gonna happen… G&F already has a table of expected license fees for hunted grizzlies. It maxes out at ~ $ 7500 for a nonresident tag. If the State takes over the total cost of managing grizzlies, it will require a GF budget line / supplemental state appropriation / subsidy of $ 2-$3 million per year. Be careful what you ask for, Matt. You already spent $ 500,000 – $ 1 million per year on Grey Wolves before they were delisted and huntable. Wyoming is losing huge sums on wolf management and wolf hunts. Managing wildlife with dollars is always fatally flawed. Wildlife ( all species) is intrinsically worth much more than the presumptive dollar value or huntable harvest yield.

    Concerning the spike in deaths from Grizzly bears, that argument would be laughable if it did not result in tragedy. Your chances of getting killed by a rodeo bucking bull in Wyoming are 600% greater, and death by saddle horse , bucking horse, or parade horse skyrockets over grizzly bear as perps. Ditto for other horrendous slayers : domestic dogs , rattlesnakes, and bees-wasps-scorpions-centipedes. The assertion that trophy hunting of grizzlies will somehow alter the vector of bears killings humans IS laughable , as in absolutely no reductive effect whatsoever. More likely a poorly shot wounded bear would turn on the ‘hunter’ and INCREASE the mortality of both species. Sometimes it seems the only tool in Wyoming’s wildlife management toolbox is a rifle. How crude.

    Average Number of Deaths per Year in the U.S
    Bee/Wasp 53
    Dogs 31
    Spider 6.5
    Rattlesnake 5.5
    Mountain lion 1
    Shark 1
    Alligator 0.3
    Bear 0.5
    Scorpion 0.5
    Centipede 0.5
    Elephant 0.25
    Wolf 0.1 ( Alaska only )
    Horse 20
    Bull 3

    – of course, the greatest killer of human beings is other humans. Perps named Smith , Wesson , Colt, Browning, Winchester, Remington , Glock, Liggett & Myers , Phillip Morris , R J Reynolds et al .

  4. Just to fill in the comments record here, Wikipedia correctly lists four grizzly bear-inflicted deaths in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in a recent two-year span: on June 17, 2010 (Shoshone National Forest), July 28, 2010 (Gallatin National Forest), July 6, 2011 (Yellowstone), and Aug. 24, 2011 (Yellowstone).

    According to Wikipedia’s list, those were the first fatal “brown bear” attacks since the 1980’s, when three occurred between 1983 and 1986.

  5. Hi, I’m curious about this quote from the article on brown bears and de-listing. “The growth in numbers has led to some fatal bear attacks on people in recent years; some Western state leaders have expressed a desire to allow grizzly hunts”
    My brief review of some literature ( via wikipedia and the National Park Service)list maybe two fatalities in Yellowstone from Grizzlies in the last more than 25 years.There were 2 deaths in the same year, 2011, and one in 1984. It seems a total of 7 deaths in well-over the last hundred years. That hardly seems like a sudden increase due to expanding brown bear population yet the article seems to imply that that may be an important consideration. Does the author think this constitutes a significant threat on which to support the worries about growth in population? Either way the above statement really needs to be qualified to list the real numbers, with the actual statistics so people are not mislead when considering the issue. Otherwise, out of context, a reader could imagine anything about the numbers of deaths which indeed could make you feel terrified and ready to do anything to save us from bears. Look forward to hearing from you!
    Love Wyofile by the way!
    Michael Hussin