(March 22, 2007) -- Conservationists say they will fight a decision announced today by the Bush administration to strip Yellowstone grizzly bears of their protected status under the Endangered Species Act. Calling the government plan “deeply flawed,” the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said it will pursue every avenue possible, including a lawsuit and Congressional action, to protect the bears from being hunted and their habitat from being exploited for large-scale real estate and energy development.
“The government is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Louisa Willcox, director of NRDC’s Wild Bears Project. “When you consider that they were nearly extinct 30 years ago, Yellowstone’s grizzlies have made a remarkable recovery. But they’ve survived only because of the Endangered Species Act, and they’re not out of the woods yet. The bears face grave threats that will be even more daunting if they’re stripped of protected status.”
The public overwhelmingly opposes revoking the bears’ protected status. The tally of formal comment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that by a margin of more than 200 to 1 Americans told the government they oppose its plan to strip the bears of Endangered Species Act protections.
Willcox said land that is home to the bears is being chipped away by development, oil and gas drilling, logging and road building. Delisting grizzlies will loosen restrictions on all those activities, accelerating the loss of bear habitat and increasing the likelihood of bear-human conflict.
Scientists also are increasingly alarmed by global warming, which threatens to decimate one of the bears’ most important food sources. Warmer temperatures have spurred the spread of pestilent beetles that are killing whitebark pine trees, which produce nutritious nuts that the bears need for survival.
Under the delisting rule, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is turning over management of grizzly bears outside Yellowstone National Park to the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. About one third (approximately 175) of the Greater Yellowstone grizzlies live outside the park and a surrounding area known as the grizzly “Recovery Zone.” The delisting rule puts any bears that wander outside this area at increased risk of death, especially since the surrounding states plan to allow grizzly bear hunting.
Grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 because their numbers had dwindled to the brink of extinction. Between 50,000 and 100,000 grizzlies once roamed the western United States, but 99 percent of the bears were killed and 98 percent of their habitat eliminated. Yellowstone’s grizzlies have since rebounded to 500 to 600 bears.”
“This could be a story with a happy ending,” said Willcox. “But the government seems intent on rewriting it into a tragedy.
“Grizzlies are part of the natural heritage that is shared by all Americans,” she continued. “Yellowstone and its wildlife have a special place in our history and in the hearts and minds of millions of people. If the grizzlies die out, it would be like Old Faithful running dry. Healthy bear populations mean that the land is healthy. It means that remaining pieces of wilderness will be here for our children and our grandchildren.”