Yellowstone grizzlies waking up from their winter hibernation are being greeted with gloomy news. Wildlife officials may soon take the bears off the endangered species list, which means they won’t be considered as a threatened species, allowing hunters to kill them.
For the first time since the 1970s, Yellowstone-area grizzlies may be taken off the endangered species list. The federal government is proposing to lift the threatened species protection accorded to these bears, which effectively gives a green light to hunters to target them for sport. The government has contended that the population of the grizzlies has been rising steadily, and now the Yellowstone National Park is packed to capacity. The only way to ensure a healthy balance within the park will be to cull the population.
The proposal caps a four-decade, government-sponsored effort to rebuild the grizzly population and follows the lifting of protections in recent years for more than a dozen other species, including the gray wolf, brown pelican, and flying squirrel, reported Chron. A statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that the population of Yellowstone grizzlies has grown substantially, from as few as 136 in 1975, when the bears were put on the endangered list, till today. About 700 grizzlies are roaming the forests assured of their survival,
“Stable population numbers for grizzlies for more than a decade also indicate that the Yellowstone ecosystem is at or near its carrying capacity for the bears. In response to the successful recovery of one of the nation’s most iconic animals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to remove the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.”
What does delisting mean for the Yellowstone grizzlies? Being on the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife accorded special protection to the bears, reported CNN. It legally means the bear population is stable enough not to be considered endangered or threatened by extinction. Delisting means these creatures would not be protected by the Endangered Species Act. Earlier, killing a bear within the Yellowstone National Park was a federal crime. But if the bears are no longer protected, hunters could target them.
Incidentally, hunting within Yellowstone National Park would still be prohibited. However, the bears could be hunted within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which lies in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, reported Fox News.
Speaking about the impending decision, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said, “By the time the curtain closes on the Obama administration, we are on track to have delisted more species due to recovery than all previous administrations combined. We’ve done that because of several decades of hard work, like with the grizzly bear.”
While the work by the conservation agencies is truly commendable, removing the Yellowstone grizzlies from the endangered species list may be akin to dragging a lot of bears to their gruesome deaths by the bullets fired by enthusiastic hunters. Wildlife advocates have strongly voiced their concern about the announcement, warning that such steps could easily reverse the species’ gains.
— Susan Crockford (@sjc_pbs) December 9, 2015
However, the growing population of the bears has been steadily threatening not only the park’s resources, but there have been multiple conflicts between humans and grizzly bears. Yellowstone bears are quite familiar with camping sites and often attempt to approach them in search of food. Park management has put up metal boxes to ensure the food and waste remain protected from these bears. So far, about six people have been fatally mauled since 2010. Bears often target livestock, forcing wildlife managers to kill these beasts.
Animal conservationists feel it is too early to take the bears off the endangered list, especially since reports have indicated that after years of growing steadily, the Yellowstone grizzly population has significantly plateaued in recent times.
[Photo by Karen Bleier/Getty Images]