It seems to be capture season for Yellowstone grizzly bears once more.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team has captured 24 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park for the purpose of research. They’re also hoping to capture grizzlies in eastern Idaho so they can be radio-collared or outfitted with GPS systems.
The purpose of all this? The team wants to determine whether Yellowstone grizzly bears may be delisted from the Endangered Species Act.
From the Casper Star Tribune:
“If we can get on half a dozen (in Idaho), that’s good,” said Gregg Losinski of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “If we can get a dozen, that’s wonderful.”
The estimated grizzly population in the 19,000-square-mile Yellowstone ecosystem is 757 bears. Losinski said grizzlies have recovered in the Yellowstone ecosystem and should be delisted, and that discussions are going on between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and individual states.
“The states are ready to take over management,” he said. “The population has met all its goals.”
Frank van Manen, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and team leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, said a decline in the survival of cubs and yearling grizzly bears is an indication that the habitat has reached its carrying capacity for grizzlies.
“From a biological standpoint, if you can’t fit more animals into the ecosystem, you’ve reached recovery,” he said.
The Yellowstone ecosystem is one of six grizzly recovery zones in the lower 48, with those in Idaho, Montana and Washington state.
The status of Yellowstone grizzly bears under the ESA has been an issue for decades, ever since their initial listing in 1975. More recently, they were delisted in 2007; only to be relisted in 2009 after the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups sued, citing the endangerment of whitebark pine populations by climate change and beetles. Grizzlies often feast on whitebark pine nuts before hibernation.
In the aftermath of the 2009 decision, state and federal scientists have indicated they believe grizzlies are finding food sources besides whitebark pines and that the decline in adult whitebark pines has lessened in recent years.
There is no indication whether federal officials will make a decision on the matter anytime soon. Nonetheless, this round of IGBST activity is bringing up old concerns and thoughts on the matter.
From the Casper Star Tribune:
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said bears need to be doing well in all the recovery areas and not delisted one area at a time.
“That’s not how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work, and we don’t agree with the approach,” he said. “From our perspective, to carve it up into separate populations to delist undermines the population as a whole.”
Should Yellowstone grizzly bears be delisted, it would be business as usual in the Park. Outside the Park, grizzlies would be subject to state management practices, which includes limited hunting.