The Future of Grizzly Bears

Taking Note

A grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park.
MARCH 4, 2016

The 1973 Endangered Species Act, a landmark environmental measure much detested by developers and other commercial interests, is credited with saving the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, the American alligator and the gray wolf, among other species. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has its way, the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will soon join that company of once-close-to-extinction creatures that no longer needed the act’s protection. On Thursday, the service proposed to remove grizzlies in the Yellowstone region — meaning the national park, and the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — from the endangered species list, whose protections the bears have enjoyed since 1975.

If the bears are ultimately “de-listed” — a comment period on the proposal is now underway — it will represent another triumph for the act. By 1975, the grizzly population had dwindled from an estimated 50,000 animals in the Lower 48 to fewer than 200 in the Yellowstone region, and bears were dying faster than they could reproduce. Protected from hunting and trapping by the act, the Yellowstone population has since grown to between 700 and 1,000 animals, a number the agency’s scientists and many independent observers see as proof of biological recovery and sufficient to guarantee an expanding, sustainable population going forward.

But whether de-listing will ultimately prove to be a triumph for the grizzlies remains to be seen.  The draft conservation strategy published along with the proposal contains strict mortality limits as well as protections against development of grizzly habitat….

Most crucially, the future of the grizzlies depends on the states to which their protection is now entrusted. And here there is reason to pause and cross one’s fingers. Consider the case of the Rocky Mountain gray wolf.  The service de-listed the wolf in Idaho and Montana after scientists concluded that it had reached sustainable populations in its range, and turned wolf management over to the states. Both states soon embarked on wolf hunts; the wolf was not de-listed in Wyoming, where the anti-wolf animus characteristic of the region was particularly virulent, and where the wolf is still under federal protection. The service says that wolf populations have remained stable throughout the region, but this is testament to their ability to breed rapidly, not to any particular affection or sense of responsibility among the politicians of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The environmental groups that have decried the service’s new proposal, including the Sierra Club, argue not only that the proposed de-listing is scientifically premature but also that the states simply cannot be trusted to make it work. They have sound historical reasons for feeling that way. It will ultimately be up to this administration and its successors to insure that its promise to the grizzlies — and it is indeed a promise — is honored.


3 thoughts on “The Future of Grizzly Bears

  1. It seems like the same old story: the Administration wants to look like they have been successful environmentally, and to show that, they seem to think that all that is needed is a long list of delisted animals (see what we did? see how many critters recovered under my watch?). But it is really a sham, and the animals’ welfare and future isn’t a concern for them.

    I am not optimistic about this at all.

  2. Ida, me neither. What is largely ignored about the whole process, is that it is the same old “hunter/conservation ethic” founded originally by Trophy/Big Game hunter “conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt, and later supported by serial animal killer, Aldo Leopold.
    Unfortunately, many groups are praising these two animal killers for their wonderful “contributions” to “modern” game management, which is the worst of Humanist wildlife ideological practices: that of artificially manipulating wild animal populations to “benefit” human activities, such as hunting and trapping. If we want to save wildlife, this management ideology is not the way to do it. Wild animals have intrinsic knowledge built into their brains (more intelligent than ours) which allow Nature to regulate their populations for the benefit of the whole ecosystem. It is all about “politics.” Science has nothing to do with any of this.

  3. Grizzly delisting consideration and state wildlife agency salivating over another trophy animal: It is too early for salivating and wet lips of state wildlife agencies (desire to hunt), already divvying up proposed grizzly hunting quotas, for trophy hunting, their version of “management”. It is exactly “not” management, not the way to go. It is not surprising that hunters encroaching on grizzly habitats are shooting more bears, or that bears are more often trapped and killed as their numbers grow. Hunters forget the more effective pepper spray, but they may be just taking an opportunity for a kill.. It would be surprising otherwise. Grizzly bear growing numbers should impel them to disperse into other regions and states where there are still plenty of niches. Management should concentrate on opening up predator and other wildlife corridors of travel, of dispersal; not “management” by killing (aka hunting) and driving down the numbers, so they are less likely to disperse into available niches. Habitat protection, acquisition, and wildlife corridors up and down the Rocky Mountains, corridors under highways are the way wildlife management should be going not “management” by hunting emphasis. All major predators (grizzly, cougar, jaguar, wolverine, wolf, and others) should be protected indefinitely from hunters and trappers and ranchers, as they especially, and extraction industries and development. Maybe state wildlife agencies should not manage predators with their protocol and almost single-minded mission of licensing hunters and trappers and recreational killing and farming of recreational killing targets to the detriment of balanced wildlife ecology. Enough of the political management of wildlife. Dan Ashe and the USFWS should be fired and the federal and state “wildlife agencies” revamped for wildlife protection, habitat protection and acquisition, corridor development and protection, and re-wilding, balanced ecology.

    References: Will Barack ‘Black Eagle’ Obama save the grizzly bears?

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