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USFWS Delaying Yellowstone Grizzly Decision

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reportedly delaying its decision over whether to delist Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species List.

Mid-December 2016, we reported that a decision was months away, since the USFWS had to review approximately 650,000 public comments on the decision. We also noted that, when the final rule was issued, it would likely face legal challenges.

According to the Casper Star Tribune, USFWS Assistant Regional Director Michael Thabault said it could take another six months to review all the comments. The Tribune notes that over 100 Yellowstone-area grizzly bears have been killed in the past two years—evidence (some say) that the agency is seeking delisting prematurely. Thabault contended that death rate was sustainable for the population.

The USFWS has attracted criticism from many quarters over its decision to pursue delisting.

Conservation groups and Native American tribes, for instance, have been quite vocal about their opposition to the rule, which could potentially reestablish grizzly hunting in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Indeed, a number of tribes (all of whom have seats on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee-Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee) signed a treaty opposing the delisting of Yellowstone grizzlies.

In Yellowstone National Park, Superintendent Dan Wenk has expressed reservations over the prospect of delisting Yellowstone-area grizzlies.

Meanwhile, some are questioning the counting method (Chao 2) used by the USFWS to calculate Yellowstone’s grizzly population. One researcher from the University of Montana, using the modeler RAMAS—software used by the USDA and EPA, among other agencies, and private companies such as Down Chemical and Pfizer—predicted that the Chao 2 model underestimated the impact hunting would have on the bear population.

Others, such as former Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team research David Mattson, say delisting would be detrimental to Yellowstone-area grizzlies and their potential to someday reconnect with grizzlies in other parts of the Rocky Mountain, like the population around Glacier National Park. Such connectivity, Mattson contends, is essential for both populations, given that they’re living in ecological “islands.”

About Sean Reichard

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

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