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By Micah Drew
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Yellowstone Area Grizzlies Delisted as Endangered Species

 


The Montana Grizzlies will soon be under new management.

We’re not talking about the UM football team, but rather the grizzly bear population in the state. Specifically, those living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the agency plans on removing grizzlies living in the Yellowstone area from Endangered Species Act protection and turning management to the states and tribes.

The announcement was made June 22. The rule takes effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” said Zinke in a press release. “The culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners.”

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) includes the National Park as well as an area of Montana stretching from Billings to Butte and south through Dillon.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted GYE grizzlies in 2007 but the decision was overturned in federal court.

There are close to 700 grizzly bears in the GYE, up from about 130 in 1975. According to Hilary Colley, grizzly bear recovery coordinator with FWS, the population has met the recovery criteria that allows them to be removed from the endangered species list.

Cooley said this move will allow FWS to focus on other pockets of grizzly bear populations—all grizzly bear populations outside of the GYE remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

There are five grizzly bear recovery ecosystems in North America. The largest is the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) which includes Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Complex. Estimates put the number of grizzly bears in this area around 1,000 animals.

“Our population is on the increase,” said Region 2 FWP Bear Manager Jamie Jonkel. “We’re moving towards delisting here as well.”

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, a cooperative group that oversees grizzly bear recovery, recently announced their hope of getting a delisting proposal for the NCDE out in 2018 which could turn the bears over to state management as early as 2020.

According to Jonkel, the checklist for delisting is coming together. Conservation strategies have been drafted, food orders and forest plans are in place and the science shows the population is trending upward.

“We’ve got all our ducks lined up here,” said Jonkel. However, “anything that impacts the Yellowstone Ecosystem will impact us.”

The Yellowstone delisting has already faced a lot of backlash. WildEarth Guardians, a conservation group based in the west, notified FWS they planned to sue the agency if the decision is not reversed.

In addition, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Watersheds Project, Native Ecosystems Council and the Western Environmental Law Center have also condemned the decision.

One driving force behind the protests is that states will be able to instill hunting seasons for delisted populations, an idea that Jonkel said is misunderstood.

“It won’t be a wide open season by any means,” he said. “They’ll have to be managed intensely in regards to hunting.”

With the hunting issue still up in the air—and potential court battles looking to stop the Yellowstone delisting—business in bear country continues on as usual.

 

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