The U.S. Interior Department announced Friday that it will not be restoring federal protections for Yellowstone National Park’s grizzly bear population. This decision was made after a months-long review process and came despite a previous court ruling that questioned how the federal government allowed individual states to manage grizzly populations.
Thanks to protections that were introduced in 1975 as the grizzly bear was classified as a threatened species, Yellowstone’s grizzly population had grown from 136 that year to about 700 as of the present, Mother Nature Network wrote. In 2017, grizzlies were removed from the Endangered Species List, and the National Park Service wrote at that time that the species had made a “remarkable recovery” in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with the population in the area believed to have reached its capacity.
As recalled by CBS News, the federal court-mandated review began last year, when it was decided that the Interior Department had to take into account the loss of a species’ historical habitat and how it could impact its recovery. This was part of a case involving Great Lakes-area gray wolves, which, in similar fashion to grizzly bears, have lost most of their historical habitat, but have nonetheless recovered in parts of the U.S. However, the Interior Department disagreed with this ruling on Friday, emphasizing that Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population has indeed recovered, and grizzlies that live outside of the park’s region are still given the required protections for threatened species.
Since last year, conservationists have expressed concern over the grizzly’s removal from the Endangered Species List. According to Mother Nature Network, these concerns have ramped up now that two of the three states the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is located in have proposed limited public bear hunts for this fall. CBS News wrote that hunters are allowed to kill 10 male and two female grizzlies in Wyoming, and one male and no females in Idaho. Final rulings have yet to be made for the proposed bear hunts in both states.
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Another concern is the possibility of climate change putting the future of Yellowstone’s grizzly population at risk, as federal protections could ensure that the bears are able to adjust to any changes to their habitat or their sources of food.
In a statement issued to CBS News, Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Andrea Santarsiere commented on the recent Interior Department announcement, maintaining that Yellowstone’s grizzlies haven’t recovered enough for protections to be lifted.
“They still occupy less than 5 percent of their historical range. That’s just not recovery.”
On the other hand, the Interior Department’s decision was praised by pro-hunting groups such as the Safari Club, whose attorney, Doug Burdin, told CBS News that the federal agency did the right thing and that there are key differences between the protections that grizzly bears and wolves should receive. He pointed out that non-Yellowstone grizzlies are still protected in the Lower 48 states, while the Great Lakes population of gray wolves was the last that was still protected by the U.S. government.