Endangered Species Act Protections in Yellowstone Region at Stake
LIVINGSTON, Mont.–(ENEWSPF)–December 19, 2013. Citing concerns that federal estimates of Yellowstone grizzly bear population size and trends are not reliable, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today asking it to release all the data on which those estimates are based. The agency’s claims of substantial population increases are being used to justify calls for removing Endangered Species Act protections from the region’s bears next year.
“When the nation’s top grizzly scientists disagree about how many bears there are and whether the population is increasing or declining it’s irresponsible to consider dropping federal protections,” said Louisa Willcox, a grizzly bear conservation advocate with the Center. “If the Fish and Wildlife Service has data that shows increased bear numbers, the agency should have no problem providing the data for independent analysis.”
At interagency grizzly bear committee meetings in Missoula last week, the Fish and Wildlife Service claimed there may be more than 800 grizzly bears, up from an estimated 600 bears reported by federal researchers in each of the past three years. This purported increase corresponded with significant changes in population models and interpretations of data that have not been made available to the public.
“Yellowstone grizzly bears are facing a world of uncertainty right now that must be addressed before we can safely pull the plug on protections,” said Christine Wilcox, a research scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rapid changes in food resources. Increased conflicts with humans. Isolated populations that cast doubt on their genetic future. None of this bodes well for the bears.”
Last week Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen announced the agency will make a final decision about removing federal protections from Yellowstone’s threatened grizzly bears in 30 days; delisting could occur in 2014. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are pushing to take over management and institute sport hunts of bears, much as they have with wolves.
“Outstanding questions about actual population numbers, trends over time, and the long-term effects of the relatively recent loss of key grizzly food sources remain. Valid scientific concerns should not be trumped by politics,” said Bonnie Rice, Greater Yellowstone representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign.
This request for the raw data comes at a time when several new scientific studies have documented problems with the models used to estimate the size and trend of Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population and show that the population may be declining.
Yellowstone grizzly bears are one of the last remaining populations of these bears left in the lower 48 states. As top predators, grizzlies serve as a barometer of the health of the ecosystems where they live. A vast array of other species — from songbirds to bighorn sheep — benefit from the recovery of grizzly bears and their habitats. Significant progress has been made toward recovery, but independent scientists say significant declines of key grizzly food sources in recent years suggest that trend could quickly reverse if protections are prematurely dropped.