DELISTING: A BAD IDEA
The reason why the Yellowstone population needs to remain listed and protected under the ESA? Because Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population is still not recovered!
Yellowstone’s population of roughly 700 grizzly bears is completely isolated from all other grizzly bear populations and much smaller than the 2000+ animals widely considered necessary for long-term viability. Moreover, the Yellowstone population is, along with grizzlies to the north, a mere 1-2% of the roughly 100,000 grizzly bears that once roamed the Contiguous U.S. in a range that was formerly 100 times larger (see the map at left). The Yellowstone population continues to be jeopardized by increasing regional human populations, energy development, problematic livestock husbandry practices, habitat degradation caused by climate warming, hostile state management, and unreliable methods for monitoring status and trends (see below).
Yellowstone’s grizzly bears have lost critically important foods.
Since the early to mid-2000s, two of the four key grizzly bear foods, cutthroat trout and the seeds of whitebark pine, have collapsed. Drought, climate warming and predation by a nonnative trout have nearly extirpated cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake. Whitebark pine have been functionally wiped out by the spread of a non-native fungal disease and by a highly lethal and unprecedented climate-driven outbreak of bark beetles. Most elk populations have also declined—some dramatically-- from highs reached during the 1990s and early 2000s. There is no doubt that food resources of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears have declined and put the population at grave risk, with a prognosis of more of the same to come.
State-level management of large carnivores is a problem.
State wildlife management agencies in the West today serve the minority special interests of those who want to kill deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep (i.e., ungulates). State agencies view large carnivores primarily as competitors for ungulates that could otherwise be on the market for sport hunting licenses, which are a major source of agency revenue. Sport hunting has been used during recent decades to drive down populations of mountain lions and wolves, and, accounts for roughly 70-80% of all deaths of adult carnivores in the region. Over time, states will almost certainly manage grizzly bears in the same ways as they do wolves and mountain lions, which will preclude ever securing connections between ecosystems and reaching larger conservation goals.
Grizzly bears are vulnerable to the excesses of state-level wildlife management.
Grizzly bears have one of the lowest reproductive rates of any terrestrial mammal. A typical female will only produce 2 cubs once every 3 years, with good odds that one of the cubs will die before it reaches adulthood. Grizzly bears also have difficulty colonizing new habitats, primarily because female grizzlies tend to stay in or near their mother’s range. This lack of resilience contrasts with that of wolves and mountain lions, which reproduce at higher rates, and readily colonize areas hundreds of miles away. Compared to other large carnivores, grizzly bears will be much more vulnerable to the effects of state-sponsored sport hunting, and much less able to recover from predictable hunting excesses designed by state agencies to benefit elk and moose populations. And, without doubt, colonization of new ranges will be the first casualty of state management.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service cannot reliably assess the status of the Yellowstone population.
Grizzly bears in Yellowstone’s mountainous and forested wilderness are notoriously hard to count, whether live or dead. This means that the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has resorted to using indirect indicators together with statistical adjustments to track the population. Recent research has shown that the methods used by the USFWS are not only unreliable, but also generate spurious results that increase the likelihood that the USFWS will erroneously conclude that the population has grown, when in fact, it has declined due to excessive numbers of deaths. Claims by the USFWS that the Yellowstone grizzly bear has grown at a substantial rate for several decades are unsubstantiated. Although some growth has likely occurred, it is much more modest than advertised, and population decline is probably occurring now as a result of high mortality linked to deteriorating habitat conditions. A bad situation will almost certainly worsen if Yellowstone’s grizzlies are delisted and resources are not available to maintain current levels of monitoring.
The concerns of 50 Indian tribes have not been addressed.
Many Indians and their tribal governments see grizzly bears as relatives, teachers and healers vital to the cultural and spiritual health of native people. The proposal to delist and permit sport hunting of grizzly bears in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is an anathema to a growing number of Indians. So far, 50 Tribes have passed legal resolutions opposing delisting and trophy hunting of grizzly bears. As sovereign nations, Tribes are demanding that the federal government formally consult with them to address their concerns about the spiritual and cultural impacts of delisting. They seek a moratorium on delisting until an adequate consultation process has been completed. So far, state and federal agencies have exhibited a disturbingly disrespectful attitude toward the Tribes. This dismissiveness is consistent with a long history of racism and the deference of management agencies to a minority with anti-carnivore interests while sacrificing the broader public interest.
The Yellowstone grizzly population has benefited from, and will continue to benefit from, ESA protections.
Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem would not be as numerous nor as widely distributed as they are now without ESA protections. The ESA has protected habitat on public lands by requiring that land managers consult with the USFWS to insure their actions do not jeopardize grizzly bears or their habitat. Listing under the ESA also halted sport hunting of grizzly bears, led to the closure of garbage dumps and the clean-up of other human attractants, and prohibited and penalized poaching. If delisting were to occur, habitat protections would be removed, sport hunting would be renewed, and harassment and poaching would be subject to much less severe state penalties. Given the severity of threats facing Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, it makes no sense to delist the population.
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