- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Yellowstone grizzly bear recovery has been hailed as one of the nation’s great conservation triumphs, but environmental groups want to place the bear back on the endangered-species list.

WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit Wednesday to overturn the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove federal protections for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears after 42 years, calling it “premature.”

“The Service failed to carry out its paramount — and mandatory — duty to ensure grizzly bears in the contiguous United States are recovered to the point at which the protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary,” said Kelly Nokes, WEG carnivore advocate, in a statement.

“The Service’s decision is riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in the crosshairs of extinction once again,” she said.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced in June that management of the Yellowstone grizzlies had been turned over to the states and tribes after the bear’s population rebounded from a low of about 136 bears to an estimated 700.

“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 June 22 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 Yellowstone grizzlies have also more than doubled their range since the mid-1970s, occupying more than 22,500 square miles in northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, and their population has been stable for more than a decade, according to the Interior Department.

The lawsuit challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to designate the Yellowstone grizzlies as a “distinct population segment” and accused the agency of failing to consider the delisting impact on other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states.

“Biologists agree that grizzly recovery hinges on connecting isolated populations and distributing the genes they carry,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, which is representing the WEB. “Under this illegal and ill-advised plan, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would be the first to die.”

Grizzlies were listed as threatened in the lower 48 under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, and federal protections remain in place in the other four grizzly ecosystems.

The service proposed delisting the Yellowstone grizzlies under the Obama administration in March 2016, drawing 372,311 comments after reopening the comment period in the Federal Register in September 2016.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Montana comes 10 years after the grizzly bears were initially delisted in 2007, which was overturned by U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy in part over concerns about the impact of climate change on the bear’s food supply.

“That issue has since been addressed,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

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