- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Grizzly bear populations have recovered to the extent that the species will be taken off the list of endangered and threatened species, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton is expected to announce today.

More than 600 grizzly bears are thriving in the Yellowstone National Park area, a strong recovery from 1975, when the species numbered about 300 and was first listed.

Interior Department officials declined to comment on what they say will be a “major announcement” at the 10 a.m. press conference, only noting that the species’ growth rate has averaged from 4 percent to 7 percent in the past 10 years.

“This success has been achieved because of the collective efforts of federal and state agencies, conservation groups, university researchers and private citizens,” the officials said.

The Bush administration has been under mounting pressure from Western lawmakers, who say that when a species is recovered, it should be delisted to relieve property and, in some cases, hunting restrictions imposed by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee set criteria for recovery in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Those targets have been met, but the bear remains on the list.

Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican and a champion of ESA reform, met with Mrs. Norton last month to discuss the delisting.

“I told her that Interior’s credibility hangs on this action — this is what’s wrong with ESA. This plan is a good one, has a scientific basis and needs action,” Mr. Thomas said after the meeting.

The news traveled quickly across Capitol Hill after lawmakers from the affected states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana were invited to today’s event.

Cameron Hardy, a spokesman for Mr. Thomas, said the move is a “positive step,” but he voiced skepticism about the time it might take to complete the delisting process.

“It took 10 years for the bear to recover, it should not take 10 years to get the delisting in place,” Mr. Hardy said.

President Clinton announced the delisting of the bald eagle six years ago; however, the Interior Department has still not delisted the bird.

Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee, praised the delisting but said such major delisting efforts should happen more frequently.

“This is great, but the bigger picture is actually quite grizzly — pun intended. For every species we have delisted, there are 100 still languishing on the list,” Mr. Pombo said.

“This law has to be modernized to focus on results for species recovery, so one day we have more delisting announcements and less press releases on listings and litigation,” he said.

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