As Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears’ spot on the federal endangered species list becomes less secure, opponents of delisting the bears are stepping up efforts to be heard.
Members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee — comprising representatives of state and federal agencies — recently voted unanimously to support a conservation strategy should delisting occur. The action could lead to controlled hunting of grizzlies in parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
“The conservation strategy ratification ships forward the necessary operating rules to the U.S. Fish and Wildife headquarters in Washington, D.C., that would establish guidelines for Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to follow if the grizzly is removed from the list,” wrote Cody Enterprise reporter Lew Freedman in a story published Dec. 19 by the Wyoming newspaper.
The same day, Louisa Willcox, a longtime grizzly activist based in Montana, announced the release of “Keep Grizzlies Protected,” a film Willcox produced featuring leading scientists speaking about threats to the future of the grizzly bear and their concerns about the federal government’s consideration of stripping federal protections for them.
In an article published by grizzlytimes.org, Willcox wrote delisting the grizzly bear would expose the threatened population to trophy hunting.
"The grizzly bear is especially vulnerable because of its low reproductive rates, and much-diminished numbers since European settlers arrived," Willcox wrote. "Even with federal protections, grizzly bears still number just 3 percent of what they once were in the lower 48 states. An unprecedented number of citizens share these concerns about the future of the grizzly in and around the nation’s first park."
Idaho still classifies grizzly bears as a threatened species. There are no hunting seasons for grizzlies in Idaho. However, in May, the state’s Fish and Game Commission agreed to enter into an agreement with Wyoming and Montana showing the states support delisting the Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies and that they will work together to monitor and manage the bears should delisting occur.
Should delisting occur, the states would determine the bears’ discretionary mortality rate — bear deaths based on population and expected natural deaths — in the 19,279-square-mile Yellowstone Ecosystem area. The population available for hunting will be divided between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho based on the amount of territory each state has in the ecosystem outside national parks. Idaho’s share of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is 8 percent and does not include any portion of North Idaho.
The “Keep Grizzlies Protected” film comes at a time when, according to Willcox, people across the country have expressed opposition to the proposed removal of Endangered Species Act protections.
“Over 800,000 people recently signed petitions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior, asking for continued protection of Yellowstone grizzlies, rather than devolution of management to the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana,” Willcox wrote.
The film makes the following recommendations: keep the bears protected, redouble recovery efforts to connect the Yellowstone grizzlies to neighborhing sub-populations they have been isolated from, allow the bears to expand into suitable habitat, and improve practices that allow humans to coexist with bears.
These measures, Willcox wrote, will also improve the ability of bears to adapt to a changing climate and are consistent with widely shared public attitudes.
The film concludes by asking viewers to ask President Obama to withdraw the proposed rule to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears.
The film can be viewed at keepgrizzliesprotected.com.