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USFWS to Review Yellowstone Grizzly Delisting Decision

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing their decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears.

The move comes after a court case involving Great Lakes wolves.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, earlier this year, a judge in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled that USFWS couldn’t remove protections for the Great Lakes wolf population without “considering the impact the move would have on wolf recovery elsewhere in the country.”

Most lawsuits filed against the USFWS over Yellowstone grizzly bears raise a similar issue.

The Chronicle also reports the agency is seeking public comment on their review, as detailed in the Federal Register. You can submit comments here through Regulations.gov or by mail/hand-delivery to the following address:

Public Comments Processing
ATTN: FWS-R6-ES-2017-0089
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC
5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

According to the Chronicle, all decisions pertaining to the review will come next spring:

Steve Segin, a spokesman for the USFWS, said the grizzly bear delisting rule still stands, but that USFWS wants input on how the Great Lakes wolves case should impact the delisting.

“This whole thing is new and we issued our final rule before we had this court’s opinion,” Segin said.

A USFWS press release said the agency will address the comments and release its conclusions before March 31.

Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the move is “unprecedented and very unusual,” and that it seems like an attempt to cover up legal problems in the rule.

“It seems like a pretty lame attempt to just paper over some fatal flaws that they recognize they have in this rule,” she said.

The USFWS has been criticized in the past for its methodology in determining grizzly numbers.

Yellowstone grizzlies were delisted in June 2017, after nearly two years of review, public comment, and discussion among stakeholders. Grizzly management turned over to the states in August.

USFWS officials contend the species is stable enough to warrant delisting, while opponents argue removal of protections opens up the population to more risk of decline.

Opponents of grizzly delisting are also pushing back against the possibility of grizzly hunts. Supporters of hunts have taken notice as well; the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International recently asked for “permission to intervene” in the court case involving Yellowstone grizzly bears should hunts be proposed.

All evidence points to the Yellowstone grizzly population currently being stable in park boundaries and adjacent areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In light of the Great Lakes wolf sentence, however, this may not be evidence enough for removing protections. From the Chronicle:

USFWS considers the Yellowstone bears to be a “distinct population segment,” a term that allows the agency to treat different subsets of a species differently. In the case of the grizzly bear, while protections have been removed from the Yellowstone population, they remain for bears in the seven other recovery areas — including near Glacier National Park.

USFWS used the same justification in its 2011 attempt to delist the Western Great Lakes gray wolf. The Humane Society sued over the decision. A federal district court ruled in the Humane Society’s favor in 2014. The federal government appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., which upheld the lower court’s ruling in August.

In its opinion, the appeals court wrote that USFWS failed to consider the effect delisting “would have on the legal status of the remaining wolves in the already-listed species.”

This brings up another facet of Yellowstone grizzly litigation: the issue of connectivity. Grizzly advocates argue the bear should not be considered “stable” or “recovered” until there is connectivity between currently isolated grizzly populations.

Recent research has started charting the paths Yellowstone grizzly bears could take to reunite with bears around Glacier National Park, with officials in the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks agency saying they’re preparing for the likelihood these populations will rejoin each other someday.

About Sean Reichard

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

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