The Trump administration is lifting Endangered Species protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday. The agency stated that the bear population, which has been under federal protection for the last four decades, has grown enough to merit delisting.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who represented Montana in Congress until earlier this year, said in a statement. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
Yellowstone’s grizzly bears numbered no more than 150 and lay within a range of fewer than 11,000 square miles back in the 1970s, but its present-day population is now around 700 and is spread across a range of 22,500 square miles, according to federal surveys. The Obama administration proposed lifting Endangered Species protections for the grizzlies in March 2016, and federal officials spent the 15 ensuing months continuing to monitor the bear populations, evaluate local state conservation plans, and solicit feedback from the public.
With protections now pending official removal, hunting bears outside Yellowstone’s park boundaries will be legal. But state officials could impose hunting moratoriums if the population falls below 600 again. And hunting bears inside Yellowstone will remain prohibited.
Several conservation organizations panned the delisting. They argued that human development and climate change will continue to threaten the bear populations’ viability.
“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,” said Sylvia Fallon, scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.