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Study: Grizzlies should stay on endangered species list

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | March 31, 2021 2:02 PM

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending no change to the current listed status of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, following the completion of a five-year status review.

The recommendation follows a thorough review of the best available science, informed by an independently peer-reviewed species status assessment, the federal agency said in a Wednesday press release.

Grizzly bears are currently listed as threatened under the ESA.

Locally, about 1,000 bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, a broad swath of land that includes Glacier National Park and then runs south along the Continental Divide to the Ovando area. The 2019 population estimate was 728 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone.

Grizzly bears continue to expand outside that range.

However, the grizzly is listed under the ESA as a single entity in the lower 48 states. As such, the status review and recommendation is made to the listed species as a whole.

“Although grizzly bear populations in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems are biologically recovered, five-year status reviews must evaluate the status of a species as it is currently listed under the ESA to ensure it is receiving the appropriate level of protection,” the press release noted.

Last week Republican Montana Sen. Steve Daines said he would introduce a bill to delist grizzlies in the 22-million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He claimed the science proves grizzlies should be delisted in that area.

However, this study suggests otherwise. It notes that depending on the level of conservation in the future, the grizzly bear population could actually drop, even in places like Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide.

However, if conservation measures are maintained or increased, populations could increase as well, in places such as the Bitterroot Ecosystem, the Cabinet-Yaak and the Selkirks in Idaho. There are low populations of grizzlies in places like the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak areas.

In the Bitterroot, populations have been extirpated entirely, save for the odd bear.

Another population where they’ve been extirpated is the North Cascades in Washington state. North Cascades National Park was working on a long-term plan to reintroduce grizzlies there, but it was squashed under the Trump Administration.

People are the main reason for grizzly bear mortality, the study notes.

“The primary factors affecting grizzly bears at both the individual and ecosystem levels are excessive human-caused mortality and human activity that reduces the quality and quantity of habitats, which increases the potential for human-caused mortality, both directly and indirectly,” the study notes.

“Human activities are the primary factor impacting habitat security and the ability of bears to find and access foods, mates, cover, and den sites. Regulating human-caused mortality through habitat management and conflict prevention are effective approaches, as evidenced by increasing grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states, specifically the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, where conflict prevention measures and motorized access standards exist and have been met,” the study found.

Montana Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale objected to keeping bears on the endangered species list.

“I strongly disagree with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to continue listing the grizzly bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This decision fails to consider that in areas such as the Greater Yellowstone ecological system recovery criteria has been met. I will continue to work with stakeholders and USFWS to develop a science-based species management plan that considers the risk grizzly bears pose to many Montanans’ livelihoods,” Rosendale said.

Daines also weighed in on the status review, saying “the Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed once again what Montanans know all too well—the grizzly bear is continuing to recover nationwide and has fully recovered in Montana’s two largest ecosystems. Merely recognizing the biologic recovery of the grizzly bear is not enough.

“The Biden Administration should follow through on their commitment to follow the science and act upon their career scientists' own findings by moving forward immediately to delist the grizzly bear in Montana and return species management back to the state,” Daines stated.

The Fish and Wildlife Service noted the agency “looks forward to continuing grizzly bear conservation work with partners at local, state, Tribal and federal agencies to fully recover the species.”