Most conservation groups and scientists oppose the move to lift the protections, citing evidence that Yellowstone's grizzlies face a troubling future because of global warming. Yellowstone grizzlies depend on the seeds produced by the whitebark pine tree as a main food source used to fatten up before winter hibernation. Global warming is causing beetles to kill this key grizzly food source at alarming rates.
"With global warming speeding up reproduction of bark beetles that kill whitebark pine trees, we face a future where every year is a bad year for whitebark pine, and the consequence is every year is a declining year for Yellowstone grizzlies," said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold.
Grizzly bears in the contiguous United States occupy only two percent of their historic habitat. Only one percent of their historic population levels survive today.
Lifting Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies rescinds limitations on road-building, logging, and oil and gas development in much of the public lands currently used by grizzlies.
Nearly 40 percent of lands used by grizzlies today in the Yellowstone ecosystem is outside of the designated recovery area. Although the Fish and Wildlife Service counts the bears outside of the protected area to conclude that the population meets recovery levels, the agency has not taken steps to ensure the bears' viability in those areas after delisting.
The government's decision to lift protections will also subject the bears to hunting in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. In Wyoming, four counties (Park, Fremont, Sublette, and Lincoln) have passed ordinances and resolutions to express their intolerance of grizzly bears within their borders. For example, Fremont County resolved in 2002 that grizzly bears are an "unacceptable species" that constitutes "a threat to the public health, safety, and livelihood" of the citizens of Fremont County.
"We're disappointed that federal wildlife managers have abdicated their responsibility to protect this magnificent animal, and we will continue to fight for their survival," says Honnold.
The conservation groups filing the notice of intent to sue Tuesday were the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Humane Society of the United States, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watershed Project, Great Bear Foundation, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.