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Grizzly Protections Could be Handed Over to States

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team estimates there are about 700 bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. (Ny/flickr)
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team estimates there are about 700 bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. (Ny/flickr)
August 26, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal to delist the grizzly from the endangered species list could disconnect the species' habitat and open the bears up to game hunting, according to comments on the plan from states including Montana.

Conservationists in Montana are worried there still aren't enough bears for the population to make a full recovery. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team estimates there are about 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Jesse Logan, a retired U.S. Forest Service entomologist, explained the American Society for Mammalogists and the Society for Conservation Biology have said the population is not close enough to recovery numbers.

"This sort of misrepresentation that occurs in both the federal government's delisting proposal and also in the state's proposed management absolutely doesn't stand up to the light of scientific scrutiny," he said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife said the bears have reached their carry capacity in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Grizzlies could be delisted under the Endangered Species Act by the end of the year.

In comments from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, states said they would oppose review of the grizzly's status unless there is a "significant, documented decline" in the species' population, backing out of protecting stable population numbers. The states also have backtracked on commitments to connecting Yellowstone and northern Montana populations and a long-term management plan.

David Mattson, a retired biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said climate change is another big factor, and that last year many bears died because they left their degraded habitats.

"Those levels of mortality are unprecedented, and there's a reason why that many bears are dying," he said. "It's because of deteriorating habitat conditions, an unraveling environment."

Mattson and other biologists such as Edward O. Wilson and Jane Goodall also are concerned that game hunting of bears will begin as soon as management falls to the states.

Mattson said delisting the grizzlies would leave Americans outside of these three states without a say in the bear's future.

"The federal government gives every American citizen a voice in management of Yellowstone grizzly bears, and this population is indeed of interest to a lot of Americans."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT