Monday, June 26, 2017

Yellowstone Grizzly Loses Its Legal Protection

Species deemed to be recovered are eligible to be removed from the Endangered Species Act's legal protection.  De-listing, as it is known,  is supposed to be an indication of conservation success in bringing a species back from the edge of extinction, but it is a mixed bag of success.  The Yellowstone grizzly which has enjoyed federal protection for decades will now face the not-so-tender treatment of state governments under the sway of trophy hunters who foot the bill of state wildlife management.  The grizzly population in the Yellowstone region has indisputably rebounded after forty-two years of federal protection despite numerous previous attempts to remove the bear.  Yellowstone bears number 717, up from 300 in 1975.  The Interior Department announced its delisting decision on June 22nd.

Members of the Cheyenne, Shoshone, Blackfeet and Northern Arapaho tribes have vowed to fight to keep brother bear protected and live in peaceful co-existence. They signed an historic treaty last October, only the third international agreement of its kind in one hundred fifty years.  Native Americans believe the delisting not only threatens the iconic bear but also will allow access to historic areas for energy development.  Tribal authorities say the federal government did not consult them in the decision to remove the bears' federal legal protections as required by an executive order formulated during the Clinton administration.  The executive order provides no legal grounds for litigation, however.

Conservationists are concerned that Yellowstone states are already planning to allow hunting of grizzlies in their jurisdictions base on their expressed objections to the federal Conservation Strategy that governs how the species is to be treated in the future.  States want to reduce the minimum allowable number of bears from 647 to between 600 and 747 under the so-called and oft cited "North American model" of wildlife management.  Basically that model is pro-exploitation of a species provided it is not exploited into oblivion.  Federal biologists have established 500 has the minimum sustainable population of Yellowstone bears.  The fact is that the great bear has been extirpated from 98% of its former range in Canada and the United States.  So it is still vulnerable to extinction despite the success in protecting a few isolated populations [see map below]

The grizzly is in conflict with a hostile species in a dwindling area of suitable habitat.  An example of the hatred it must confront: a Jackson Hole outfitter announced that as soon as grizzlies are delisted, he intends to target Bear 399, the Yellowstone ecosystem’s most famous and beloved grizzly. First collared in 2001, Bear 399 and her several litters of cubs have frequented Grand Teton’s roadsides for more than a decade, delighting sightseers. The outfitter told the Jackson Hole News&Guide that he was motivated by a hatred for, “the federal government, bear-loving environmentalists and the Endangered Species Act.” A fairly revealing comment that should motivate the bear lovers among us to continue giving the grizzly the assistance of human laws to survive in the 21st century.