Yellowstone Grizzlies Back on Endangered Species List

LIVINGSTON, MT (September 21, 2009) -- A federal district court ruling in Montana today returned Endangered Species Act protections to the Yellowstone grizzly bear population. In the case, brought by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Judge Donald Molloy ruled that inadequate regulatory mechanisms were put in place to manage the bears after federal protections were dropped in early 2007, and that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) failed to address the loss of an essential food source for the bears, whitebark pine seeds. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and six other groups, represented by Earthjustice, have a similar case pending in Idaho.

For years, NRDC has been vigorously engaged in efforts to protect Yellowstone’s grizzly bears and whitebark pine. Whitebark pine forests are being decimated throughout their range by an array of threats that have emerged in high elevation environments as a result of climate change. Researchers worry that the trees are being driven to functional extinction, radically altering some of the continent’s most iconic landscapes and eliminating a crucial food source for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. NRDC petitioned to have the tree added to the federal Endangered Species List in December 2008.

Following is a statement from Louisa Willcox, senior wildlife advocate for NRDC:

“This is a chance to hit the reset button and get the right policies in place before it’s too late. As we lose whitebark pine, we need to redouble efforts to anticipate and reduce conflicts with people: that means making sure people keep clean camps and yards, carry bear spray, and are prepared to stay safe in grizzly country.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service tried to pretend there wasn’t a problem -- even as two key grizzly foods, cutthroat trout and whitebark pine, collapsed and mortalities went through the roof. A record 79 bears died last year, or 13% of the population, according to federal estimates. The judge recognized what we have been saying all-along: protecting grizzlies requires enforceable, science-based standards to protect habitat -- not wishful thinking -- and trigger mechanisms that prompt meaningful responses when conditions change. This was an important decision -- and a logical one -- in the face of strong scientific evidence.”

“It’s time to roll up our sleeves, and take a fresh look at habitat that bears can use to offset the loss of whitebark pine. To get there, we will need a new, transparent, democratic process that includes everyone affected by the Great Bear, and the magnificent landscapes that are its home. We can get to real recovery, and in doing so protect the health of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which this species represents.”

“This has been a hard year for grizzlies in the Northern Rockies, with at least 18 bears already being killed in the region. That body count simply underscores the need for further protection.”

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