Yellowstone Grizzlies Under the Gun

Legendary conservationist Jane Goodall has added her voice to the growing chorus of conservationist and scientists contesting the removal of the Endangered Species protection of the grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone National Park ecosystem.

A total of 58 experts have put their name to a letter urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to keep the grizzly bears on the Endangered Species Act, which has protected them from hunters and other interference since 1975.

The USFWS decision, announced in March, has been widely criticized for inadequate research that overestimates the number of grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the adequacy of their food supply. In addition, experts believe that the USFWS significantly underestimate the impact of proposed trophy hunter of bears that routinely move in and out of the boundaries of Yellowstone and the adjacent Grand Tetons National Parks.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is vehemently opposed to the proposed delisting of the grizzlies.

“Miraculous” is what scientist David Mattson, a researcher who has followed these grizzlies for four decades, calls the bears, their adaptation to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and their survival into the 21st century in the face of so many threats to their existence. “Why rush [to delist] when you’re as close as you are to your absolute minimum?” asks Mattson, perhaps the most vocal of the scientists opposing the delisting. Unlike government researchers, he can speak freely because he’s retired from the U.S. Geological Survey and no longer serves on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. “It’s a precious gift to have grizzly bears here, hanging on.”

The USFWS estimates the grizzly population at 700 individuals, only 100 more than the number considered to be viable as a sustainable population. However, that population number is under continual stress. Last year alone 61 bears were killed as a result of bear/human interaction in the ecosystem.

Once removed from federal protection, the three stated bordering the national parks intend to allow trophy hunting of the grizzlies. No matter how well regulated, trophy hunting combined with the necessary management of the bear population will place significant additional stress on the grizzlies.

“Handing over management to hostile state politicians, without any federal oversight at all, has not been a success story,” says Michael Markarian, chief operating officer for The HSUS. “Our country spends millions of dollars trying to bring species like wolves or grizzly bears back from the brink of extinction, and as soon as they’re delisted, they are subjected to trophy hunting and harmful practices that were responsible for their decline in the first place.”

The ultimate question is why? Why delist? Why allow trophy hunting? What do we gain by saving a species from the brink and then placing that species back into danger? Why do it?

Instead of letting a few trophy hunters kill bears, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service could wait and keep the grizzlies listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Or the agency could refuse to delist them unless states ban trophy hunting. Why take the chance of hunting the bears? Why not simply be grateful that we have the grizzlies at all, that they were saved, not only for the residents of Wyoming, and Montana and Idaho, but for all Americans, for people everywhere? Why not appreciate the wonder that in this time when so much is being lost, these bears improbably survive?

You can raise you voice in the fight to protect a species that your tax dollars were spent to save. The HSUS has an advocacy form here.

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