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Could Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Be Delisted Again?

Calls to delist the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act (at least around Yellowstone National Park) have reportedly intensified.

It’s a decades-old divide, between proponents for delisting and advocates for continued protection. Delisting proponents call attention to an apparent spike in bear sightings and appearances. Wyoming’s Game and Fish contends, for instance, grizzly track was found near a new bike trail on Bureau of Land Management property south of Beck Lake in Cody. And, according to Wyoming Public Media, Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden has been receiving calls from all over about bear sightings:

“We had them this summer just north of town. And, they desperately need to be delisted. You talk to a lot of the environmentalists and they say because of the lack of food in the high country that’s what’s pushing them down. But you talk to hunters and outfitters in the high country and they’re seeing as many bears up there as we have down here.”

Indeed, this has been an eventful summer for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park. In June, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team captured grizzlies for research, intending to determine whether grizzlies could be delisted. And of course, a grizzly sow was put down after killing a hiker in August and its cubs were shipped to the Toledo Zoo. More recently, a pair of cubs were relocated near Yellowstone after their mother was put down for raiding apple orchards.

It’s important to note: Yellowstone grizzly bears were previously “delisted” in 2007, only to be relisted in 2009 out of concerns that one of their favorite food sources (whitebark pine) was on the decline. And currently, there is no indication delisting is being considered once more.

The IGBST (which recommended delisting bears in 2013) reported in April there were around 757 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, although others (such as State Senator Hank Coe [R-WY]) contend there are upwards of 1200, although such numbers are more anecdotal.

Experts commenting on the issue are split between keeping bears on the list or taking them off. Carnivore ecologist Dr. Jim Halfpenny of Gardiner, Montana, for instance, calls for delisting. He told WPR: “The purpose of the endangered species act is to take the might of the federal government and take care of a species that is in trouble until we can lift it up until it will survive in perpetuity. And then we give that management over to the state. I think we’ve reached that point with the grizzly bear.”

Cody-based, retired ecologist Chuck Neal, meanwhile, contends environments unsuitable to grizzly bears bound the GYE—calling the GYE an “island.” “If we had 3000 bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, the bear would not be ready for delisting.”

Members of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have come forward saying connectivity should be the number one priority regarding grizzly bears, not delisting. Wyoming Conservation Associate Jenny DeSarro commented to the WPR about creating a corridor for grizzly bears between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, using easements from landowners., saying, ““Their connectivity is crucial for their survival so Greater Yellowstone Coalition is already on the ground working on how we can connect the Crown of the Continent and the Yellowstone Populations.”

Part of this includes keeping roadways out of grizzly habitat, or in low enough density where both grizzlies and people can adapt.

In the meantime, the GYC also wants to minimize contact and conflict between grizzly bears and humans, something delisting proponents say state governments could handle more effectively. The GYC has declined to comment on delisting.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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