Is the Mexican grizzly bear extinct?

by Karen Kirkpatrick

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Many people may think grizzly bears are vicious, but they’ve gotten a bad rap.

The answer to this question depends on a definition that has changed over time. At one time, scientists thought that brown bears and grizzly bears were separate species, but today, they are considered the same species, Ursus arctos. There isn’t a consensus on how best to classify them or how many subspecies there are, however. An estimated 200,000 brown bears live primarily in North America and Russia

. The Mexican grizzly is a subspecies of brown bear, so cursory research would seem to indicate that the Mexican grizzly is not extinct.

However, if you do a little more digging, you’ll find that the International Union for Conservation of Nature produced a book in 1982 stating that Mexican grizzlies were extinct. The IUCN is the organization that tracks the conservation status of plants and animals and ranks animals as threatened, endangered or apparently safe. The group also classifies Mexican grizzlies as a subspecies of brown bear.

The story goes like this: Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, a subspecies of brown bears called Mexican grizzly bears lived in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. By all accounts, they were smaller than their counterparts in Canada and the northern United States. In the early 1960s, a Mexican rancher began a campaign to eradicate the bears because he blamed them for slaughtering his cattle (in reality, the bears eat mainly plants and insects and rarely go after small mammals). Due to the cattleman’s efforts, the Mexican grizzly was probably extinct by 1964.

So is the Mexican grizzly really extinct? It is presumed to be so, although the brown bear species continues to thrive in parts of North America, Europe and Asia. Ecologists consider the Mexican grizzly extirpated, which means it is locally extinct.


Endangered Species Act Under Threat/Challenging New Mexico’s War on Wolves, Bears and Cougars

From Project Coyote Newsletter:

Wildlife Killing Contests Featured at Speak for Wolves Conference

In August at the Speak for Wolves Conference in West Yellowstone, Project Coyote Founder and Executive Director Camilla Fox led a team of panelists to discuss the pervasive and cruel practice of “wildlife killing contests” that award prizes to those who kill the most and largest animals including coyotes, bobcats, foxes and even wolves – often on public lands. Conference attendees also got a sneak peek of Project Coyote’s film trailer that will help expose this unconscionable practice and empower citizens to take action to end it.

Watch the Trailer »

Challenging New Mexico’s War on Wolves, Bears and Cougars

In late August, Science Advisor Dave Parsons spoke out on behalf of Project Coyote at a rally and a public hearing as part of a coalition opposing the New Mexico Game Commission’s new rule allowing increases in cougar trapping and bear hunting. The Commission also denied a federal request to release more Mexican Gray Wolves into New Mexico.

Watch the Video »

Federal Endangered Species Act Under Threat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed draconian changes to the long standing regulations for citizen petitions for adding species to the Endangered Species Act’s list of threatened and endangered species. The proposed changes would make it difficult if not impossible for most citizens and conservation organizations to file petitions. Project Coyote will submit a comment letter endorsed by members of our Science Advisory Committee opposing the proposed changes. The deadline for comments is September 18.

Read the Comment Letter

Grizzly “recovered” in Yellowstone Ecosystem

Aug 21, 2015

A male grizzly bear feeds on a carcass in Northwest Wyoming.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department

The number of grizzly bears has reached the point of recovery and it’s time to delist. So say ranchers and wildlife management officials in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem area. This area includes a large section of northwest Wyoming, southeastern Montana and eastern Idaho, as well as Yellow stone National Park.

It should be noted that the Yellowstone Ecosystem extends far beyond the boundaries of the national park and sometimes causes confusion by people who don’t want grizzly bears managed in an area they perceive to be the park.

The grizzly bear is currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), according to Scott Talbott, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. This is somewhat different than “endangered,” Talbott said. But the bottom line remains: They are federally protected in the Yellowstone Ecosys tem.

The bear has been under scrutiny for many years. Grizzlies were listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the authority of the ESA in 1975. At that time, 136 grizzlies were thought to live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The goal of an ESA listing is to recover a species to a self-sustaining, viable population. In the case of the grizzly the sustainable goal was set at 500.

Recovery levels were attained and the grizzly was delisted in 2007 with a conservation strategy in place. However several parties including environmental protectionist groups sued, arguing not enough evidence existed to show adequate habitat and that one of the bears’ primary food sources— whitebark pine nuts—was in decline. A judge ruled in favor of the environmentalists and the bear was relisted in 2009.

Talbott said a new study was completed and made public in December 2014. Since that time the study group has been working with USFWS and he said they are hopeful a new rule will be released soon, although there is not a clear timetable. “We (representatives from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) have repeatedly met with the service (USFWS) to initiate that process and move it forward,” Talbott told WLJ.

The study examined populations of bears based on guidelines that determined 500 to be a sustainable number. The agencies and scientists studying the animal reported 757 bears.

Another study reports numbers as high as 1,200 animals, but Talbot noted that difference is due to different study methods.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee (YES) study team, which consists of state and federal biologists, uses a process known as Choa2, a statistical estimate for counting grizzly bear concentrations. This study provides the official count of 757, which Talbott calls a very conservative estimate.

The other group conducting bear population studies is the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), which uses a mark-resight estimate. This method looks at animals that are trapped and tagged due to conflicts. Officials then count how many times they are seen verses unmarked bears in the population. Talbott said this method hasn’t been finalized and provides a much higher number than the Chao2 method.

Dan Thompson, Large Carnivore Section Supervisor with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, spoke about the different numbers when counting the grizzly population, saying, “I know that people think we are being disingenuous but we’re trying to make sure that we’re not portraying something that’s not defendable by science. I’m very comfortable saying that the 757 number is accurate based on the data analysis technique we’ve used for years, but we know it’s biased low.”

Clearly we have exceeded all of the recovery criteria, Talbott said. “We feel we have a very strong assessment of whitebark pine habitat and have answered all of those questions and we need to move forward with delisting.”

Although the grizzly bear lives throughout the three-state ecosystem, its population is largest in Wyoming, with about 50 percent outside of the national park and only 25 percent within park boundaries. Talbott said the remaining population is pretty evenly split with 12.5 percent in Idaho and 12.5 percent in Montana.

YES and IGBC have both recommended that grizzly bears be removed from threatened status.

From a financial standpoint delisting also makes sense. Talbott said the state of Wyoming currently spends $1.4 million per year on grizzly bear management. A portion of that is spent to compensate landowners and livestock producers for confirmed losses from grizzly bears. The amount of compensation in 2007 was $83,000 and in FY 2015 the state paid $486,842 for livestock loss reimbursement.

Albert Sommers, a cattle rancher and President of the Upper Green River Cattle Association (UGRCA), who also serves in the Wyoming House of Representatives for District 20, talked with WLJ about some of the issues he and his organization have seen with the grizzly.

The UGRCA knows firsthand the impact of bear depredations. That association consists of about nine ranchers who have grazing allotments within the Yellowstone Ecosystem. He said they are permitted 7,000 cattle on the allotment of approximately 130,000 acres, and currently run between 5,900 to 6,000 head (a cow/calf pair counts as one).

Sommers said the first bear kill on their allotment was confirmed in 1993. Cattle losses between 1990-1994 from all sources and prior to the arrival of large carnivores including wolves were about 2 percent annually. As the bear increased its range and population, by 2000 calf losses were closer to 8-10 percent. Sommers said wolves are included in the conversation, but of 75 head of cattle killed last year, a majority were taken by grizzlies. He added that as of Aug. 14 of this year, more than 50 animals had been lost to bears and four to wolves.

Managing the bear means managing cattle, and Sommers said it’s harder to manage grass when the cattle won’t go into timbered pockets to graze because grizzlies are in the area. “We’ve moved from having riders just moving cattle to grass and watching for sick animals to having their primary goal being to look for depredated carcasses. That’s the only way you can get a management action,” he told WLJ. “We’re trying to think outside the box on what we can and can’t do to reduce predation, but there’s no silver bullet.”

Because a large population of bears resides in northwest Wyoming, conflicts with livestock are occurring more often. Talbott said the expansion of grizzly bears extends off of forest land to private property east of Cody, WY.

There have also been documented sightings west of Lander, WY, in the Wind River Mountains and as far south as the Big Piney, WY, area.

Our number one priority is human safety, Thompson said. “But with increased population and increased human activity, there’s more opportunity for conflict.”

Although human engagements with bears are rare, earlier this month Yellowstone National Park officials confirmed a hiker was killed by a grizzly bear attack within the park. Evidence pointed to a female bear as his attacker, they said. The bear was captured and euthanized and her cubs will be relocated to a zoo this fall.

So far there hasn’t been any movement by the USFWS or any other group to delist the bear. When a new rule is published it will go through the federal rule-making process, which includes a public comment period before being enacted.

All of the officials WLJ spoke with pointed out that if the bear is delisted it will still be managed. And while there may be limited hunting, it will not be a significant number. More importantly, delisting will give state wildlife officials more flexibility in dealing with problematic grizzlies. Currently when the decision is made to capture, relocate or put down a bear, the state must work with USFWS. Thompson said state and federal wildlife officials work together, but as long as the bear remains on the threatened list, all final decisions rest with the USFWS.

Sommers said he tells people that maintaining endangered species on the landscape requires working landscapes in the West to continue, and working landscapes are all about ranching. “If we want to keep sage-grouse, grizzly bears, wolves, all of that, we as a nation have to find a way to make it work for ranchers. And work for working landscapes—that is absolutely essential.”

Sommers concluded, “This is really good proof that the Endangered Species Act worked. So this is actually a success story, if the environmentalists will allow it to be a success story.”

Ltr: Don’t cater to trophy hunters when it comes to wolves

Some members of Congress are catering to trophy hunters by proposing to remove Endangered Species Act protection for wolves. The federal government tried this in several states, the states immediately opened hunting seasons, and wolf numbers plummeted. The fate of these animals should be determined by science, not Congress.

The stories about wolves constantly gobbling up all livestock and children are myths. They only account for just 0.1 percent to 0.6 percent of all livestock deaths. There have been no documented attacks by wolves on people in the lower 48 states.

Let’s be clear: hunting wolves is completely counterintuitive. It actually increases the tendency of wolves to pray on livestock because it breaks up stable wolf packs and allows younger animals to start breeding and expanding into new territories.

Wolves are trying to survive after centuries of persecution. I would like to urge my Representative, Brenda Lawrence, to support keeping federal protections for wolves.

Please contact your Congressional representative and let them know you want our remaining wolves to stay protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Kristina Pepelko,

West Bloomfield

copyrighted wolf in river

Feds decline to reclassify gray wolf under Endangered Species Act


What happens when the states try to manage wolves…

Gray wolves across most of the Lower 48 are classified as endangered, which is more protective than a threatened designation. Advocates hoped a change to threatened would pre-empt intervention from members of Congress who want to lift federal protections altogether.

Wildlife Officials Reject Petition to Reclassify Wolves

Advocates sought to designate gray wolves as a threatened species to pre-empt removal of federal protections

South Carolina Congressman Wants to Neuter Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

 by 06/19/15

Hudsonian Godwit

I’m a Canadian, so I’m not entirely familiar with how things work legislatively in the bustling and powerful nation to the south of me. But, what I do know is that there is a Republican congressman from South Carolina who wants to place a rider on an appropriations bill that “prohibits the federal government from prosecuting any person or corporation for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

The Act, first passed in 1918, has the word “treaty” in it because it is an agreement between two separate, sovereign nations—Canada and the U.S.—and there is a reason for such a mutual understanding.

Look at the word “migratory.” Just four years before the law came into effect, the once most abundant bird species in North America had become extinct, and others were gone or on the verge. It was recognized even then, and all the more so now, that apart from any moral or aesthetic consideration, these birds performed valuable utilitarian services (such as the non-toxic control of insects) and that the health of the environment depended on the diversity of wildlife.

Even as the great Industrial Revolution rolled out of Europe and across America, it was as true then as it is now that the very foundation of our lives, and our ability to do commerce, depends on the viability—the health—of the environment from which we have sprung, and upon which we ultimately and totally depend. No gram of food, drop of water, or breath of air exists but for the workings of the nonhuman, “natural” world. And, we are corrupting all of that at an alarming rate.

How can people who don’t realize that get elected to high office?

A large percentage of protected species are essential to Canadian interests, but how can we protect them when they are migrating to, or through, the U.S.? People continue to kill even the most benign and beautiful of songbirds; or simply mow down habitat; or shoot hawks, herons, Hudsonian godwits, or hummingbirds.

What is particularly incomprehensible is that this unscientific, unneighborly, unilateral decision should come at a time when we are seeing so much loss not only in birds, but in other wildlife species, in America and worldwide. Wildlife species that were abundant in my childhood are now being listed as threatened or endangered. Even still, common species are not as common. In the 1970s, a drive from my home to Lake Simcoe, about 45 miles to the north, was filled with sightings of Savannah sparrows, bobolinks, thrashers, vesper sparrows, meadowlarks, kestrels, barn swallows, and so on. Now, I can make that drive in the absence of seeing any of them; they are not necessarily endangered yet, but they are clearly in serious decline.

Meanwhile, what was once Eurasia’s most abundant bird species, the yellow-breasted bunting, has seen a 90% decline in population since 1980. It is a migratory songbird, roughly the size of our native song sparrow—but it lacks protection. Robins and rails, sandpipers, and shrikes need protection wherever they occur, and they know nothing of politically chosen borders.

The yellow-breasted bunting has been over-hunted in regions, especially China, where there is nothing like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or legislation to enforce it.

We can’t keep destroying what is so essential to us, even those who see no inherent value in the song of a hermit thrush, the dramatic stoop of a falcon, the cheerfully bright colors of a goldfinch or tanager, or the drama of a flock of scoters flying in a string just over the breaking waves in the low light of a coastal dawn.

I understand that the president and the senate have the ability to veto the bill, but it seems a shame to promote such divisiveness in the first place. I can only hope, for the sake of all, that compassion prevails.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Washington residents split on reintroducing grizzly bears

Teresa Yuan, KING 5 June 15, 2015

NORTH BEND, Wash – The debate to reintroduce grizzly bears to the North Cascades has drawn support and criticism.

The National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service drafted a plan to bring the endangered species back to the North Cascades almost 30 years ago as the their numbers were dwindling.

This process has been slow until public meetings held by the federal government around Western Washington in March. In total, nearly 500 people showed up.

The government received more than 3,000 comments throughout the process, with grizzly bears being called “man-eating monsters” to “mystical creatures.”

Under the federal government’s plan, the protected grizzly bear would be returned to federal lands running from the Canadian border to Wenatchee, and extending west to Darrington and North Bend.

Biologists believe there used to be as many as 100,000 grizzlies on the West Coast. Now, there may be only two dozen left in Washington.

In one of the 3,000 comments, a supporter wrote: “Grizzly bears are an icon that represent healthy wilderness eco-systems in the Pacific Northwest. To sustain an integral part of what makes our country unique and wonderful we must sustain umbrella species such as the grizzly bear.”

On the other side, someone posted: “As much as I love wildlife, I am not supportive of re-introduction of grizzlies to Washington state. I also find that hiking in Glacier and Yellowstone to be extremely scary, and I want a wild place to go where I don’t have worry about grizzlies.”

The federal government is expected to make a final recommendation in late 2017 about whether or not to reintroduce the grizzly bears back to the North Cascades.

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

NOAA investigates Steller sea lion deaths near Cordova

(L-R) Kate Savage (NOAA), Noah Meisenheimer (NOAA), Lt. Matthew Keiper (US Coast Guard), and Sadie Wright (NOAA) collect samples from a dead Steller sea lion near Cordova, Alaska. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is investigating the deaths of several Steller sea lions southwest of Cordova.

Julie Speegle, spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries, Alaska region, says 15 dead sea lions were discovered in the area on June 1.

“Three to five of them had wounds that our biologists could definitely say were human-caused wounds,” Speegle said. “So that indicates that these Steller sea lions had been deliberately killed.”

Killing sea lions violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which only allows limited exceptions for subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives

These particular animals were from the western stock of Steller sea lions, which are also listed under the Endangered Species Act.

NOAA law enforcement is looking for information from anyone with details about the event…and are offering an award up to $2,500 dollars for information leading to a conviction.

Arizona sues feds over regulations on Mexican gray wolves


Madeleine Winer, The Republic

The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Attorney General’s Office have filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging it has failed to update its Mexican-wolf recovery plan.

The state is asking the secretary of the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a modern plan that would improve Arizona’s involvement in recovery efforts and establish a target number of Mexican wolves for the area.

“If you think about wildlife management, part of what you want is for a target number of animals for there to be a balance in the rest of the biotic community,” said Jim deVos, Arizona Game and Fish Department assistant director for wildlife management. “You don’t want to have too many of the one thing. We want a healthy population of wolves in balance with social, economic and wildlife needs in the state of Arizona.”

The current Mexican-wolf recovery plan, established in 1982, allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain a captive breeding program and re-establish the population with 100 Mexican wolves released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona and New Mexico in 1998. Currently, deVos said, 109 wolves inhabit Arizona.

The Game and Fish Department claims the 1982 plan fails to identify how many animals would constitute recovery of the population and allow the wolves to be removed from the list of endangered species in the future. For decades, there have been conflicts between ranchers and the wolves.


With Friends Like the Obama Administration, Endangered Species Don’t Need Enemies



Endangered species program director, Center for Biological Diversity

From gray wolves to Cheat Mountain salamanders, the more than 1,500 endangered species in the U.S. face threats like never before. In addition to the ever-present threat of habitat loss caused by our growing footprint on the planet, species now face growing threats from climate change, invasive species, over-exploitation and pollution.

Given the growing magnitude of threat to endangered species, one would think the Obama administration would pull out all the stops to save our precious wildlife heritage. Instead, the administration and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have quietly been rolling out a series of regulatory changes that threaten to cripple the Endangered Species Act, dramatic changes that would never have flown under the Bush administration.

Here’s a breakdown of those policies and why they matter:

In July 2014, the administration finalized a policy first conceived under the Bush administration that severely limits when species qualify for endangered species protection. Under the Act, a species qualifies as endangered if it is “in danger of extinction in all or a significant of portion of its range,” meaning that a species need not be at risk everywhere it occurs to receive protection.

The new policy, however, sets a much higher bar by requiring not only that a species be endangered in a portion of its range, but also that the loss of that one portion threatens the survival of the species as a whole. The policy also specifies that historic portions of a species’ range can never be considered significant.

If this policy had been in place when the Act was first passed, the bald eagle would never have been protected because although it had been wiped out across much of the lower 48 states, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska had strong populations that were not at risk of extinction.

Many other species that have similarly been wiped out or are at risk across large parts of the U.S. are sure to be denied protection because of this disastrous policy. Indeed, several already have, including the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl and American wolverine.

The second regulatory change forwarded by the administration severely undermines protections for endangered species’ critical habitat. The Endangered Species Act requires protection of critical habitat for all endangered species. The designation of “critical habitat” has proven to be an essential tool with species that have designated habitat being twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.

Critical habitat protects species by prohibiting federal agencies from “adversely modifying” — that is, hurting — critical habitat for endangered species in actions they fund, permit or carry out. The Obama administration’s policy could enable more habitat destruction by redefining “adverse modification” as only those actions considered to potentially harm the entirety of a species’ designated critical habitat, a change that will give a green light to the many federal actions that destroy small portions of critical habitat. If enacted, the new proposal could allow the proliferation of projects that harm a species’ habitat without assurance that the cumulative effects will be taken into account — a particularly problematic development because the Fish and Wildlife Service already has a dismal record of tracking and limiting cumulative impacts on wildlife.

The third regulatory change proposed by the administration earlier this month lets federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, off the hook from quantifying or limiting the amount of harm to endangered species allowed under overarching management plans, including regional forest plans, plans for individual national forests, plans for BLM resource areas and many others.

This will all but ensure that cumulative impacts from individual timber sales, development projects, oil and gas drilling operations or other projects will never be considered or curbed, increasing the risk that species will be driven to extinction from a death by a thousand cuts.

The most recent proposal by the Obama administration limiting the scope of the Endangered Species Act was issued just this week. It would place crippling burdens on citizens filing petitions to protect species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, ultimately making it more difficult for imperiled species to get lifesaving protections.

The proposed regulations bar petitions seeking protection for more than one species and require petitioners to provide advance notice of the petition to all states in the range of the species; to append any information from states to the petition itself; and to certify that all relevant information has been provided in the petition.

This disastrous proposal will not only make it less likely species will get the life-saving protections they need, but it’s fundamentally undemocratic, cutting the public out of endangered species management. Many environmental and other statutes allow citizens to petition the federal government for action. This proposal marks the first time that an administration has placed obstacles to citizens filing petitions for federal intervention and thus has the potential to set a very concerning precedent.

The Endangered Species Act was passed precisely because states were not doing enough to protect wildlife. In many cases, states remain opposed to protection of species. Forcing citizens to go through these very same states in seeking protection of species runs directly counter to the purpose of the Act.

In combination, these policies represent a rollback of endangered species protections that Tea Party Republicans in Congress couldn’t hope for in their wildest dreams, yet they’re being forwarded by the Obama administration perhaps as an attempt to appease critics of the Act.

If this is indeed the intent, it will fail because criticisms from states, industry and others do not come from a desire to see the Act work better but rather from a desire to see protections for endangered species watered down.

And if these changes are implemented, they’ll get their wish, effectively undermining the conservation law that has saved not only bald eagles and brown pelicans, but gray wolves, grizzly bears, humpback whales and many more.


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