From Green Right Now Reports

U.S. grizzly bears may soon lose protections under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Center for Biological Diversity warned this week.

Grizzly Bears USFWS

Grizzly bear (Photo: USFWS)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing protections for the bears living in the Yellowstone National Park region and turning over their management over to the states where they reside. At a meeting in Bozeman, MT, last week, a US FWS official reported that service scientists consider the grizzly population in that region to be robust. The US FWS’ scientific report on the bears is expected to be released soon, possibly this month.

Grizzly bear have been listed as “threatened” under the ESA since 1975 in the lower 48 US states.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) opposes the delisting of the grizzly, saying that the government has not shown enough evidence that the bears are recovering, and that other studies show the bears are in decline.

Citizens can comment on the proposal to delist the YNP grizzlies by sending an email to the FWS Grizzly Recovery station in Missoula, MT at NCDECS@fws.gov.

“This highly political, fast-tracked plan to drop federal protections for grizzly bears plays Russian roulette with a population that is still imperiled and facing significant new threats,” said Louisa Willcox, a grizzly bear conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the loss of important foods, the world of the Yellowstone grizzly is unraveling. Now is not the time to turn over the keys to management to states that are known to be hostile to large carnivores and plan to renew a grizzly bear hunt.”

The FWS has said their modeling shows the bears number 741 in the Yellowstone National Park and surrounding area, one of several areas defined as grizzly habitat. Grizzlies also reside in Washington state and elsewhere in the upper US Rockies.

Federal officials say the current estimated population reflects growth among the grizzlies.

Willcox, though, called the FWS’ estimates overly optimistic, and criticized the agency for refusing to release hard data charting the bears’ population.

“There’s no way to know if these are paper bears or real bears, because the government has refused to release the taxpayer-funded data and analyses upon which its findings were based,” Willcox said.

The CBD points to a study completed earlier this year that contradicts the FWS’ findings. It suggests that the federal agency bear numbers may be inflated because of incorrect assumptions about how long the female grizzlies reproduce and suppositions that the bear can adequately survive on foods other than their staple trout and pine seeds.

Another study the nonprofit wildlife advocacy cited shows the grizzly population has been declining by 4 percent annually since 2008.

“The government is cherry-picking the data to get the result it needs to justify delisting.  In reality, top grizzly researchers say the bear population has likely been in freefall for five years now,” said Willcox. “The hard-fought gains to restore grizzly bears over the past 38 years will be quickly reversed if current declining trends continue — and delisting would push Yellowstone’s magnificent grizzlies back to the brink of extinction.”

Advocates believe that the US FWS wants to delist the grizzlies for many of the same political reasons it delisted the Rocky Mountain gray wolves. Delisting appeases ranchers, who must deal with predation on their herds. It shows that the Obama Administration is pro-rancher, pro-business and pro-hunting, positions perceived to be helpful to Democratic officeholders in the red-leaning Rocky Mountain states.

Idaho and Montana will be allowed to set up hunting seasons for the grizzly, once protections under the ESA are lifted.