The Trump administration is removing Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears, even though the bear’s population is only 700 after more than four decades on the threatened list.
The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced the delisting decision Thursday citing a more than fourfold increase in its population and state policies designed to protect the bears show that the delisting is warranted.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
The bear’s population has risen to around 700, compared with 150 when it was first listed 40 years ago.
“Grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), who formally asked for the delisting in 2013. “I appreciate that the FWS is proceeding now with the delisting.”
“It will be great to see the grizzly bear recovered and off the endangered species list,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). “I look forward to continuing to work with the state of Montana as they take the lead in the management of the grizzly.”
The administration’s decision immediately drew rebukes from conservationists who argue the move comes too soon to be able to reliably judge the Yellowstone grizzly’s recovery.
“The ongoing recovery of Yellowstone grizzly bears is an undeniable example of how the ESA can bring a species back from the brink. However, we are concerned over how grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed after delisting,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
“We cannot allow the decades of work and investment to save these bears go down the drain,” she said.
“The Endangered Species Act protections kept Yellowstone’s grizzlies from extinction, but this iconic symbol of America’s Wild West is still at risk,” said Sylvia Fallon, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Until policies move beyond a myopic numbers game of counting bears at a fixed point in time and shift the focus to putting protections in place so bears can thrive over the long term, the future for the Yellowstone grizzly bear is grim,” she said.