Conservationists Condemn Premature Stripping of Protections for Yellowstone’s Grizzlies (Statement 6/22/17)

6/22/2017
Planned Trophy Hunts Would Fundamentally Undermine Grizzly Recovery
Location: 
Missoula

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it is finalizing its flawed proposal to strip grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Endangered Species Act protections despite overwhelming public and Tribal opposition. The removal of federal safeguards sets the stage for planned trophy hunting seasons in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in a kill zone outside the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians and Matthew Bishop, attorney and Rocky Mountains office director for the Western Environmental Law Center who represents Guardians in a forthcoming challenge to the decision offered the following statement in response to the Service’s announcement:

“The Service is derailing the recovery of this iconic species by prematurely stripping the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears of federal protections. As a result of today’s announcement, Yellowstone’s bears may soon face a trophy hunter firing line once they roam outside the safety of our beloved national parks. The Service’s decision today flouts the letter and intent of the Endangered Species Act, ignores the best available science, and undermines the recovery of this cherished species as a whole. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain threatened by dwindling food sources, illegal poaching and record-high mortality rates, genetic stress from a lack of connectivity to neighboring sub-populations, and the burgeoning threats of climate change. It is essential for the recovery of grizzly bears as a species throughout the lower 48 that the GYE bears disperse into neighboring sub-populations and still unreclaimed habitats. Now is not the time to strip these bears of vital federal protections.

The Service’s determination that an isolated population of 700 grizzlies is fully recovered and no longer in need of federal protections is absurd. It’s a purely political decision devoid of any scientific support.

Full grizzly bear recovery includes establishing natural connectivity between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem sub-population in and around Glacier National Park, and re-establishing a viable population in the Bitterroot Ecosystem. Grizzlies must eventually connect across the six recovery zones, including with the sub-populations of the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yak ecosystems and bears in the North Cascades ecosystem. 

Establishing connectivity and genetic exchange will help protect the bears against the very serious threats posed by climate change, continued habitat loss, and illegal poaching. If trophy hunting commences outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, however, the very bears critical to establishing connectivity with other isolated populations will be the first to die. Thus, the future recovery of the other sub-populations will be fundamentally, and perhaps permanently, undermined by the Service’s premature decision to strip the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem bears of ESA protections. 

The ESA is not designed to make our National Parks into proverbial zoos, where only small, isolated sub-populations of species exist. The vision and intent is broader, and requires the Service to achieve true recovery of a species to the point at which the Act’s protections are no longer necessary. 

Finally, Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears have experienced near record mortality levels in recent years (61 deaths in 2015, 58 dead in 2016, and already a death toll of 7 thus far in 2017) –– a fact the Service is adamantly ignoring by basing its population goals for delisting on data extending only up until 2014.

Contacts:
Matthew Bishop, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-324-8011, bishop@westernlaw.org
Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, 406-414-7227, bcotton@wildearthguardians.org