Grizzly delisting likely
— Proposal possible before end of summer.
Ranchers in and around Yellowstone National Park and the Northwest could be allowed greater control over their predator problems if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) moves ahead with plans to propose delisting the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Grizzly bears are thought to have originally numbered more than 100,000 in the continental U.S. When the grizzly was added to the endangered species list in 1975, the bears numbered fewer than 200 and appeared well on their way to extinction. Due to the conservation of grizzly habitat and protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the bears have rebounded to approximately 1,000 and reside throughout the Greater Yellowstone Area and the northern Rockies, along with an isolated population in Northern Idaho and Washington state.
At present, there are more than 1,800 plants and animals listed as endangered or threatened by FWS. It is estimated that 41 percent of listed populations have stabilized or improved since the inception of the ESA, however, only 11 species have been delisted due to recovery. Livestock growers across the west have long been waiting for a decision to remove the grizzly bear from the list.
It now looks like that process may be initiated before the end of summer. The leader of the grizzly bear recovery effort for FWS said the agency’s office in Washington, DC, currently has the proposal, and that it will take at least a few weeks to implement any final plan to delist the species.
Livestock groups including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) have been widely supportive of the removal of the grizzly, one of the ESA success stories, from the list.
Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of MSGA, said, “The association has long been in support of delisting the grizzly bear in favor of more local management.”
Pilcher agreed with studies that conclude the total bear population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is adequate to support the genetic diversity necessary to sustain the bear population. FWS estimates the current population in the area between 400 and 600 animals. “We need to be able to manage the grizzly bear as a resource and bring the decision-making ability home,” he said.
Foremost on stakeholders’ minds is the issue of human/bear conflict and the predation of livestock by grizzlies that stray outside of the proposed buffer zone surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Of particular concern to Livestock producers in Wyoming is the Upper Green River area.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, stated, “Our overall preference is that the habitat be held to the primary conservation area in which the bears have already recovered.”
The Upper Green River area was cited by FWS as being socially unacceptable for reintroduction due to the high likelihood of conflict between humans and bears. In spite of that, it has been included in the recovery zone because it is a critical corridor for bear traffic. Indeed, within the last two weeks, two bears have been relocated from the Upper Green River area back to the primary conservation area after killing domestic livestock.
Currently, the conservation group, Defenders of Wildlife, has a compensation fund to reimburse ranchers for losses due to bear and wolf predation. The group has stated that if the grizzly is delisted, they will re-evaluate whether or not the program will remain in place. According to the group’s Web site, they have reimbursed producer losses in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Recovery Areas in excess of $110,000 since the fund’s inception. The group also provides partial funding for pro-active measures taken by producers to reduce losses due to predation.
However, Pilcher noted that although there is a compensation fund, producers are often unable to monitor grazing lands thoroughly enough to prove losses due to predation. “The reality is that the program is just not that effective,” Pilcher said. — John Robinson, WLJ Associate Editor
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