- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2021

DENVER — Grizzly bears are thriving in the Greater Yellowstone area and yet the Biden administration plans to keep them on the endangered-species list, stoking renewed calls for more local involvement.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming Republican, introduced legislation Monday that would amend the 1973 Endangered Species Act to require that the federal government provide the scientific rationale behind its listing decisions to states, tribes and localities.

“This legislation makes sure that local, tribal, and state communities have a seat at the table when actions under the ESA are being considered,” Ms. Lummis said in a statement obtained by The Washington Times. “The law already requires agencies to cooperate with the states ‘to the maximum extent practicable,’ yet this is not being done. This legislation will fix that.”

She said the bill would also oblige federal agencies to use the latest research, including data from states and tribes, saying that they “often ignore locally generated science and data provided to them for listing determinations.”

Fueling the legislative push are rising concerns about the escalating encounters between the public and the grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming.

Such interactions have cost the grizzlies. As of late October, 42 bears had been killed after being struck by cars, killed by humans in self-defense, or euthanized by wildlife scientists over aggressive contact with people, up from 31 deaths at the same time in 2020, she said.

“This year alone, there have been reports of grizzly bear sightings as far South as southern Lincoln County near the Utah border,” Ms. Lummis said. “The towns of Jackson and Cody are seeing more and more grizzlies wander into their town lines.”

Last month, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team reported nearly 1,070 grizzlies in the northwestern Wyoming region, the most since the grizzly was listed as threatened in 1975 and far more than the previous estimate of about 750, according to Wyoming Public Radio.

In addition, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said Monday that he would petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, saying it was “time for the state to take over management.”

“With the grizzly bear recovered, keeping the species listed under the Endangered Species Act will only continue to impact communities, farmers and ranchers, and recreationists around the state,” Mr. Gianforte said in a statement. “It also limits Montana’s options when it comes to dealing with conflict bears.”

His announcement comes two months after Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said he had petitioned to have the grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem removed from the endangered-species list.

In March, the agency announced that it would recommend no changes to the grizzly’s threatened status based on a five-year status review, pointing out that the bear is listed as a single entity in the lower 48 and not by ecosystem.

“As such, the status review and recommendation is made to the listed species as a whole,” said the service in a March 31 statement. “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.”

There are six grizzly bear ecosystems across four states: Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. Grizzlies are protected in the lower 48 and not Alaska, where they number about 31,000.

The service sought in 2009 and 2017 to delist the grizzly bear, but both efforts were blocked by federal judges in response to lawsuits from wildlife groups arguing that removing federal protections was premature.

The State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act, previously sponsored by the late Sen. Mike Enzi, was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jim Risch of Idaho and Mike Crapo of Idaho.

“Species that go on the endangered species list seem to stay there forever,” Mr. Barrasso said. “Our legislation increases transparency in the listing process and makes sure state and local experts are involved in all conservation efforts.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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