Move to delist grizzlies welcome news
| February 12, 2023 12:00 AM
First enacted 50 years ago, the Endangered Species Act has played a vital role in the successful recovery of more than 100 species of plants and animals in the U.S. that were pushed to the brink — bald eagles, wolves and majestic humpback whales to name a few.
Now, Montana’s iconic grizzly bears are on the verge of officially joining this celebrated list.
The Biden administration last week said that removing the state’s grizzly population from the endangered species list may be warranted following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s review of two petitions arguing that the species has achieved recovery goals.
In fact, the federal agency said the governors of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming presented “substantial information” in favor of delisting the bruins in the regions surrounding Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
This welcome news was met with rare bipartisan praise across Big Sky country.
“The science is clear — it’s time to delist the grizzly bear,” Republican Sen. Steve Daines urged.
“FWS took a step in the right direction today, which is a testament to the strength of grizzly populations in Montana.,” Democrat Sen. Jon Tester added.
The recovery story is nothing short of remarkable.
As many as 50,000 grizzlies once lived in the West before over-hunting and trapping took its toll. Federal protections for Montana’s grizzly bears were put in place in 1975, and today estimates peg the species’ population in the Lower 48 at just over 2,000.
Whether that’s the right number will be among the areas of consideration as the Fish and Wildlife Service now begins a year-long review of the governors’ petitions. The agency reassured it would look to the data to determine if ending federal protections is appropriate.
If delisting happens, jurisdiction of grizzlies will move to the states. Montana is preempting this possibility by creating a statewide grizzly bear management plan that will define potential management tools — like hunting — while also specifying how human-grizzly conflicts should be resolved.
Establishing a framework for sustaining a healthy yet reasonable grizzly population should be the ultimate goal once federal protection is relinquished.
By following the science and listening to public comment, we’re confident that Montana can achieve a balance between protecting a species that wields immense cultural and economic value, while also providing safety for the residents who live, work and play in grizzly country.