Monday, March 07, 2016

Yellowstone Grizzly Bears May Loose Protection

US Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed removing the Yellowstone grizzly bear from protection under the Endangered Species Act.  The bear has had intermittent protection of threatened status since 1975 when their population reached a nadir of 312. The new proposal is not the first time the species has been removed.  In 2007 the agency de-listed the species and was promptly sued by conservation groups.  The dispute centered on the effects of the whitebark pine beetle infestation on grizzly survival rates and feeding habits.  Conservationists think the grizzly population in Yellowstone leveled off because of the lack of nuts while the agency preferred the interpretation that the carrying capacity of the Park for grizzly had reach maximum.  By 2011 the litigation was resolved and the bear put back on the list because the agency was deemed by federal courts not to have considered the impact of the loss of whitebark pine.

Since then, scientists determined that grizzlies have switch food sources from nuts to more meat and grubs.  An increased meat diet puts more pressure on ungulates [photo] and brings the big bear into more contact with humans and their livestock.  Last year 59 bears died due to conflicts with agriculture and hunters; but the number of grizzlies, estimated at 714 down from a peak of 757 in 2014, are still above the assigned recovery number of 500.  Bears are very slow breeders, so it will take time to determine if the latest drop in their numbers is the start of a long-term trend.  Hence conservationists say de-listing now is premature.

note: do not dance!
One chance grizzly advocates may have in court to stop the latest removal is a federal court ruling. In the case of grey wolves the court ruled that the agency may not separate a species into distinct sub-species in order to remove protections from a distinct population it thinks is "recovered".  This is exactly what the agency has done with the Yellowstone grizzly.  When first protected in 1975, the agency made a status determination for grizzlies throughout the lower 48 states.  The grey wolf case is currently on appeal in the District of Columbia.  Once again the federal government's primary wildlife protection agency has been caught out playing politics with the lives of animals slowly recovering from man's past exploitation.  The de-listing is bound to become a political football since the Current Occupant, "Black Eagle", is an adopted member of the Crow tribe and forty Native American tribes want protections for the bear, considered a totemic animal, to continue.   Conservatives, lead by an Idaho (R) senator want the protections removed.