By Stephen Dow
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — New legislation from Congresswoman Harriet Hageman (R-Wyoming) could direct U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to remove the Yellowstone area’s grizzly bears from the federal endangered species list.
“The Greater Yellowstone population of grizzly bears should have been removed from the endangered and threatened species list 15 years ago,” Hageman said in a press release. “The grizzly bear has been listed since 1975, and its original recovery goal was 500 bears. Today, the number of bears is more than double that goal and has become a threat to people and livestock in Wyoming.
“The goal of the Endangered Species Act should always be to stabilize declining populations of wildlife, then remove the species from the list when recovery goals and benchmarks have been met. Unfortunately, like we see in all facets of the federal government, once an agency has control, they are loath to surrender it for any reason.”
Hageman’s legislation comes less than a month after initial guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which on Feb. 3 announced it will again consider surrendering management of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears to the states of Wyoming and Montana.
The news came in the form of a “90-day finding” in response to petitions submitted by Wyoming, Montana and Idaho in 2022. Federal officials said they were persuaded by Wyoming and Montana’s petitions but said Idaho’s request did not contain “substantial, credible information.”
After sharing the 90-day finding, Fish and Wildlife announced it would be conducting a “comprehensive status review” of grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Montana’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem using the “best available scientific and commercial data.” That status review could result in an official recommendation to delist the grizzlies in the Yellowstone area.
In the 1970s, grizzly bears were rarely seen outside of Yellowstone and numbers in the region dipped as low as 136.
Since the bears were added to the endangered species list in 1975, numbers have grown by 4% to 7% each year. The population surpassed recovery goals around the year 2000 and is now estimated at roughly 1,000 grizzlies.
Hageman — and her bill’s cosponsors including Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) — argue that, since recovery goals have been reached, the time has come to delist the grizzlies.
“As a Congressman, I am demanding the same thing I did as Secretary (of the Interior),” Zinke said in the press release. “If we are managing based on science, there must be an off-ramp for wildlife on the list once their goal is reached.”
Grizzly delisting has been previously attempted twice, but lawsuits from environmental advocacy groups overturned both decisions.
In 2007, the decision to overturn the delisting hinged on federal wildlife managers’ lack of understanding of how the decline of whitebark pine — a major grizzly food source — would impact the species. A decade later in 2017, the delisting was overturned due to concerns about genetic diversity.