The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protections for the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears today.
The effort to save grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region has been a tremendous success—and has prevented the population from going extinct—but the bears have not yet fully recovered. Despite the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision today to remove protections under the Endangered Species Act, it is still too soon to declare victory for these animals.
“The Endangered Species Act protections kept Yellowstone’s grizzlies from extinction, but this iconic symbol of America’s Wild West is still at risk,” says Sylvia Fallon, NRDC senior scientist. “Climate change, isolation, and increasingly fragmented habitat continue to threaten the long-term survival of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. In fact, the only certainty about grizzlies at this point is that the bears face a future of uncertainty.”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tried removing endangered species protections from the Yellowstone grizzly population back in 2007. However, a court ordered protections to be restored in large part because the agency hadn’t adequately addressed the effect that the loss of whitebark pine trees—a critically important food source for Yellowstone’s grizzlies—might have on the bears. As climate change has been altering the ecosystem of the Yellowstone region, biologists have predicted that these trees could become extinct in just a few years.
“The Yellowstone grizzly bear will not survive until a plan with adequate protections is in place to protect bears from real-world threats,” Fallon says. “Until policies move beyond a myopic numbers game of counting bears at a fixed point in time and shift the focus to putting protections in place so bears can thrive over the long term, the future for the Yellowstone grizzly bear is grim.”