U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are one step closer to delisting Yellowstone grizzly bears.
Earlier this week, we reported the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee would meet to discuss a conservation strategy—one of the final steps the USFWS needs to submit a final delisting proposal. We also reported that state wildlife agency officials were unsure whether they would be “able to nail it all down.”
Now, according to the Cody Enterprise, the subcommittee approved 18-1 (with one abstention) to approve the conservation strategy:
Representatives attended from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, which would jointly take over bear management if the species is ultimately delisted from the Endangered Species Act, Yellowstone National Park and several federal forest services and agencies, Wednesday afternoon at the Buffalo Bill Center in a rare Cody meeting.
The vote was hailed as a major step towards a delisting rule, but it was also considered by several people as the logical extension of a 40-year recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly population from a low of 136 in the early 1970s.
“This is huge,” said Park County commissioner Lee Livingston, who is also president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.
Not everyone was as thrilled as Livingston. The nay vote came from Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. The abstention came from Leander Watson of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe.
The tribes have opposed delisting based on the possibility that hunting will be an element of the states’ management program and because the grizzly is considered sacred in some religions.
Watson said Native American tribes were speaking to Fish and Wildlife officials “nation to nation” Wednesday and he had no instructions on how to vote.
According to the Enterprise, Superintendent Wenk expressed disappoint regarding the plan’s forecast for long-term grizzly health in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The current plan calls for the grizzly population to stay above 600 in a 23,828-square kilometer “recovery area,” which some commentators say is too narrow an approach, as it does not factor in bears who move outside the area. Grizzly proponents have talked about the importance of connectivity and mobility re: the future of grizzly bears in the Rocky Mountain West.
Representatives from the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition also spoke out against the step and called for more public comment ahead of a subsequent delisting rule.