Endangered species protections for imperiled grizzly bears in the northern Rocky Mountains are a step closer to being dropped by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency announced Friday.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, is moving forward with Wyoming and Montana’s petitions to de-list two populations of grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act protections, the service said.
Those include a population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, including the national park, and a second population along the Continental Divide in Montana.
The agency said it will deny a petition from the state of Idaho to de-list the grizzly nationwide outside of Alaska.
The Fish and Wildlife Service previously de-listed the grizzly during the Trump administration, but a federal judge tossed out the decision.
More than 50,000 grizzly bears once populated 18 states from Texas to Alaska before 1800, but a federal government-funded bounty program that encouraged hunting, trapping and poisoning the bears nearly eradicated the species from the US. Today, roughly 1,900 grizzlies remain in the Lower 48 states after reaching a nadir of about 700 bears in 1975.
“After decades of work, the grizzly bear has more than recovered,” and represents a “conservation success,” Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) said in a statement Friday.
Montana has a plan that could allow grizzlies to be killed by hunters if the bears lose endangered species protections.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said Montana and Wyoming have presented “substantial” information showing recovery of the species and that de-listing may be warranted. The data has prompted the agency to begin a status review of the two grizzly populations, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
After a more comprehensive study of the threats grizzlies face, the service will issue a “12-month petition finding,” which will determine if de-listing is justified.
“The Service appreciates the states historical commitments and partnerships to recover bears, particularly through conflict prevention efforts that have been effective in reducing human-caused mortality,” the agency said in a statement.
Hunting Effects Need Review
But the agency said it worries that hostile state regulations will further imperil the grizzly.
“The impact of recently enacted state laws and regulations affecting these two grizzly bear populations is of concern and needs to be evaluated,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said in its statement.
Environmentalists worry de-listing would lead to widespread killing of grizzlies throughout the northern Rockies.
When the bear was previously de-listed, “Wyoming immediately moved ahead with a very aggressive approved hunting season,” which was halted when a court intervened, said Andrea Zaccardi, carnivore conservation legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Under Montana’s proposed grizzly plan, “I have zero doubt they would open up a hunting season for grizzly bears,” she said. “That plan is completely insufficient to protect grizzly bears.”
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