- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2017

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park will be removed from the endangered-species list this summer, describing the population’s recovery as a conservation success story.

About 700 bears now roam the Yellowstone area, including northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, after gaining protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 when their numbers dwindled to just 136.

“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region,” said Mr. Zinke in a statement. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners. As a Montanan, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

The governors of Idaho and Wyoming cheered the ruling, saying their states are prepared to take over management of the species from the Fish and Wildlife Service, while environmental groups ripped the move as premature.

The bears “may soon face a trophy hunter firing line once they roam outside the safety of our beloved national parks,” said the WildEarth Guardians and Western Environmental Law Center in a joint statement.

“The Service’s determination that an isolated population of 700 grizzlies is fully recovered and no longer in need of federal protections is absurd,” said the groups. “It’s a purely political decision devoid of any scientific support.”

The rule, which is likely to face a court challenge from wildlife organizations, would permit states to hold limited hunting outside the park as long as the species’ numbers remain stable.

“It’s tragic that the Trump administration is stripping protections from these magnificent animals just to appease a tiny group of trophy hunters who want to stick grizzly bear heads on their walls,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The process of delisting the grizzly bear began long before President Trump took office: The service decided to lift the species’ threatened status in 2007, but a federal judge reinstated the protections in response to a lawsuit in 2009.

Under the Obama administration, the service again proposed a delisting in March 2016 after an extensive scientific peer review of the bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem [GYE].

“Grizzly bears have more than doubled their range since the mid-1970s and now occupy more than 22,500 square miles of the ecosystem,” said the agency in a Sept. 6 statement. “Stable population numbers for grizzly bears for more than a decade also indicate that the GYE is at or near its carrying capacity for the bears.”

The rule does not affect grizzly bears in the lower 48 states outside the Yellowstone area, including those in the Northern Continental Divide region of Idaho and Montana, which will continue to receive federal protection.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead commended the work of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and said the grizzlies “will be managed appropriately by our experts and Game and Fish.”

“Grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting,” said Mr. Mead in a statement.

Derek Goldman of the Endangered Species Coalition in Missoula, Montana, lauded the federal protection for spurring the grizzly bear’s “remarkable comeback from near extinction,” but also called on states to release their management plans before the delisting is final.

“We don’t want to see grizzly bear expansion into suitable habitat curtailed by over-aggressive management once Endangered Species Act protections are removed,” said Mr. Goldman. “Grizzly bears are the slowest reproducing mammal on the planet, and a population decline can take decades to reverse.”

The final rule and supporting documents will be published in the Federal Register within the next few days, with the rule taking effect 30 days after publication.

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