Federal wildlife managers are going ahead with plans to lift protections for Yellowstone grizzlies despite a recent report that shows the bears are in decline and that current recovery standards have not been met due to a string of years of excessive female grizzly bear deaths.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team produces an annual report on the status of the Yellowstone grizzlies. The data and the violations detailed in the 2005 report raise serious concerns about the future of grizzlies in Yellowstone. Only 31 female grizzlies with cubs were observed last summer, down from 49 the previous year. By the federal agencies' own method for calculating the number of bears in the entire population, the decline in females with cubs indicates that the population declined from 588 in 2004 to approximately 350 bears this year.
"No one contends that the population estimate is perfectly accurate," said Louisa Willcox of Natural Resources Defense Council. "But whether you look at one year or a series of years, we have a declining population."
The report documents that too many female grizzlies are dying at the hands of humans. In preparing the Recovery Plan for the bears back in 1993, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a threshold for the number of human-caused female bear deaths that could occur each year, beyond which the population would be imperiled. The 2005 study team annual report reveals that that threshold was exceeded in both 2004 and 2005. According to the Recovery Plan, two consecutive years of violations means that the population is not recovered: "...these mortality limits cannot be exceeded during any 2 consecutive years for recovery to be achieved." (1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan)
"In light of the violation of its own recovery standards, the government should withdraw its delisting proposal," said Doug Honnold, an attorney with Earthjustice in Bozeman who has spent much of his career defending grizzlies. "The government has said protecting female grizzly bears is the key to recovery, and they're right. This should be a wake-up call to figure out why so many female grizzly bears are dying and to continue to protect the bears until we fix the problem."
If the bear is delisted, it could become subject to hunting in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Many of the current protections for bear habitat, including limitations on road-building, logging, and oil and gas development in grizzly home ranges would be rescinded upon delisting.
Doug Honnold, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
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