Yellowstone grizzlies to be removed from Endangered Species List

June 26, 2017, 2:09 p.m.
A grizzly bear sow leads her cubs through the snow.
Photo: Chase Dekker/Shutterstock

Yellowstone's grizzly bears will be removed from the Endangered Species List, a decision that will strip them of federal protections and return oversight of the animals to the state level. The announcement by the U.S. Department of Interior to delist the bears has been met with mixed responses. Is this a conservation success story, or a decision that will lead to the bears' decline?

The National Park Service (NPS) notes that the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has grown from 136 in 1975, when the grizzly was listed as a threatened species, to 700 individuals today.

"Scientists think the Yellowstone area population is recovered and may have reached its capacity for resident grizzlies," states NPS.

However, conservationists worry that the delisting will lead to the creature's decline. Montana, Idaho and Wyoming will have responsibility for bears outside of Yellowstone National Park, which includes decisions about what to do with nuisance bears and whether or not to allow hunting of grizzlies. Management plans, especially in regards to hunting, will have significant impact over populations of grizzlies outside the park. Conservationists also point out that climate change-induced fluctuations in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem means the future of these bears is uncertain, and maintaining federal protections will be of critical importance in the coming years as available food sources and suitable habitat shift.

"Grizzly bears are the slowest reproducing mammal on the planet, and a population decline can take decades to reverse," Derek Goldman of the Endangered Species Coalition writes in a statement emailed to NPR.

The decision affects only the Yellowstone grizzly bear population. The New York Times notes. "The action will not affect the protected status of the other major population of grizzlies in the lower 48 states, those that live in and around Glacier National Park of Montana, which number about 1,000. However, experts say this population, too, could soon be delisted. Several small, isolated populations would remain protected."

"This isn't the first time the fate of the Yellowstone grizzly has proved to be a point of significant contention," according to NPR. "Last year, under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed removing the bear from the endangered species list — using roughly the same language Zinke adopted for his statement."

The ruling will be published this week, and will become official 30 days after publication.

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