The letter was sent to FWS as the agency considers lifting Endangered Species Act protections for the bears. The letter included signatures from 269 world-renowned scientists, including Drs. Jane Goodall, Michael Soulé and John Craighead, Sr., who, with his brother Frank Craighead, pioneered grizzly research in Yellowstone in the 1960s.
"While the Endangered Species Act rescued the Yellowstone grizzly from a tragic future confined to Yellowstone Park, we still have a lot of work to do before we can say this job is complete," said Lance Craighead, Ph.D., of Bozeman, MT, son of Frank Craighead, and director of the Craighead Environmental Research Institute.
"The government needs to consider the best science," said Dr. Craig Pease, who co-authored a seminal paper on the Yellowstone grizzly population. "If you need brain surgery, you want the latest MRI technology, not a 1970s-era X-ray. The same is true in conservation."
Dr. Barrie Gilbert, a retired biology professor and grizzly behavior specialist, underscored threats to key bear foods, such as whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. "These foods, which drive the health of the population, are in trouble as a result of disease and exotic invasive species. This means that the population is still at risk."
The scientists' findings include:
- An isolated grizzly bear population of 500 or fewer bears is at risk of long-term extinction;
- The Yellowstone population is much too small genetically;
- A delisted population would be vulnerable to additional human-caused mortalities, which could have adverse impacts on the future of the population; and,
- The agency plan fails to protect adequate habitat for the long term.
Instead of restricting grizzly bears to Yellowstone country, the scientists say, the bears should be allowed to expand to nearby lands, particularly the wilderness of central Idaho.
The letter urges federal wildlife managers to take a long-term view of grizzly recovery, and not merely do the minimum necessary to get the grizzly bear off the list of threatened species.
"Populations fluctuate up and down, even in the best habitat," Lance Craighead said. "We need to ensure that grizzlies have enough space to buffer them from the risk of extinction for decades, and even centuries to come."