If things proceed according to the recommendations of a number of government agencies, grizzly bears may no longer be considered an endangered species.
Unless possible legal action takes the process back to the starting line.
At a recent county commission meeting, commissioner Loren Grosskopf reported on the March 26-27 meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee (YES) of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in Jackson. YES has recommended proceeding with delisting grizzlies from the endangered species list.
Grizzlies were temporarily taken off the endangered list in 2007. The federal 10th Circuit Court then suspended the delisting until questions were answered about their ability to thrive after the near-extinction of the white bark pine in Yellowstone Park. White bark pine is an important food source for grizzlies.
Grosskopf has been a delegate to YES since last year. It’s composed of 22 entities, federal, state, local and tribal, and meets twice a year.
“We were tasked to look at the scientific information from our perspective and recommend whether they adequately answered the questions of the 10th Circuit Court,” Grosskopf said.
After reviewing the Food Synthesis Report presented at the fall 2013 YES meeting in Bozeman, the subcommittee concluded the grizzly population in Yellowstone Park and surrounding area had biologically recovered and recommended moving ahead with delisting.
“We basically recommended there was enough scientific information in the report that answered the questions of the 10th circuit court,” Grosskopf said.
The recommendation now will move to the regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office, and from there to the Washington, D.C. office.
“If everyone agrees, a draft rule will be published in the Federal Register for comments,” Grosskopf said. “Then I’m sure the litigation will start all over again.”
The delisting process will proceed, but slowly. If bears are delisted, responsibility for bear population management reverts to the states.
Chris Colligan, wildlife program coordinator at the Jackson office of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said they will review the research and encourage input from their members. In the event GYC does recommend delisting, they may have recommendations on how to proceed.
“We’re definitely reviewing the available research on the Food Synthesis Study and doing our due diligence,” Colligan added. “We have a real opportunity in this interim period as the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing their threats analysis to improve delisting.”
But Chuck Neal of Cody, a grizzly bear expert, thinks delisting is premature. He spent 35 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM and Forest Service as an ecologist specializing in wildlife inventory.
“They talk about managing for a minimum population of 500, including 48 females with cubs within Yellowstone Park and adjacent forest lands,” Neal said. “And bears that roam outside the area can be killed without counting against that minimum number. Conservation biologists do not agree that 500 animals is adequate to maintain genetic diversity considering demographic, environmental or catastrophic uncertainties. Numbers in and of themselves are not an adequate measure of recovery.”
If grizzly bears are taken off the federal protection list, YES will continue to exist, but will change its name to the Yellowstone Grizzly Coordinating Committee. The committee will continue to meet twice a year, once in Cody and otherwise alternating between Bozeman and Jackson.
(Steve Browne can be reached at email@example.com.)