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Grizzly delisting impasse

Although federal officials voiced confidence at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that grizzly bears would be fine if they were delisted, conservation groups weren’t so sanguine.

“It’s just too early and the (grizzly) bear’s habitat too limited to be looking at delisting,” said Jeff Welsh, communications director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in Bozeman, Mont.

The grizzly management plan is the best available and very detailed, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula, Mont.

The service would not have proposed delisting grizzlies if it wasn’t comfortable with state management plans, Servheen said.

Grizzlies were delisted in 2007, but in September 2009, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy put the animals back on the Endangered Species list, ruling regulatory mechanisms were inadequate to keep the population healthy.

One court argument to delisting was the loss of whitebark pine that yield a nut important to pre-hibernating grizzly bears.

The whitebark pine crop was dismal this past year and Welsh said he expects the tree to be extinct in 10 years.

In 12 of the last 24 years, there has been no whitebark pine nut crop in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Servheen said.

In the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem in northwest Montana, whitebarks died off in the 1950s and the grizzly population of 930 has enjoyed a 3 percent rate of growth per year, Servheen said.

Grizzlies are not dependent on whitebark nuts for their survival, Servheen added.

In Yellowstone Lake, cutthroats are struggling against the onslaught of predatory lake trout.

Clear Creek, that feeds Yellowstone Lake, saw 18,000 spawning cutthroats in 1998. By 2008, that number was down to 241 Yellowstone cutthroats, Welsh said.

“The grizzlies used to feed there in Clear Creek and other tributaries,” Welsh said.

With whitebarks in danger of extinction, and cutthroat populations greatly reduced, Welsh said the bear’s future can’t be based on current population estimates.

“They continue to be, from our perspective, on tenuous ground even though the numbers look pretty good,” Welsh said.

Population dispersal and available habitat must be considered when weighing the bear’s future, Welsh said.

And, more people are encroaching on grizzly habitat, Welsh said.

Under state plans, there is not an adequate prepared plan if the grizzly population declines because of dwindling food sources and habitat, Welsh said.

In the GYE, 75 grizzlies died for various reasons in 2010. That is roughly 13 percent of the population of approximately 600.

Grizzlies can’t sustain population losses that high, said Louisa Willcox, Natural Resources Defense Council senior wildlife advocate in Livingston, Mont.

Ten years ago, nobody foresaw whitebark pines on the cusp of extinction, Willcox said.

“The whitebark pine story tells us we don’t have a very good crystal ball,” Willcox said.

Exercise caution when framing the grizzly’s prospects, Willcox said. 

If the appellate court upholds Molloy’s decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have to rethink regulatory mechanisms for other species that are candidates for potential removal from Endangered Species protections, Willcox said.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was fear of the grizzly’s extinction. Now the animals are rallying, but planners must look ahead five, 10 and 25 years to map the grizzly’s future, Welsh said.

“It’s an amazing conservation story,” Welsh said.

People arrive from around the globe to see grizzlies. That adds value to Cody and Powell’s backyard, Welsh said.

When visiting the mountains, the potential of having a grizzly nearby transforms the outdoor experience, Welsh said.

“They totally heighten your senses,” Welsh said.

Willcox watched the court proceedings. It could be four to six months before the three justices reach a decision, she said.

“The bears definitely had their day in court,” Willcox said.

If the grizzly population dips, the service could institute emergency re-listing in a few weeks and then determine whether long-term re-listing is warranted, Servheen.

Many strategies are present to monitor the bear’s progress, Servheen said.

“All these safety systems are in place,” Servheen said. “That’s why we proposed delisting.”

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5 comments

  • posted by MIKE DALEY

    April 14, 2011 8:13 pm

    We need to protect Grizzly's at all cost. They are an important national resource just as important as the parks in which they live. I have hiked in remote areas all hours of the day and night and never had any problems. All you cowards who think bears kill everything and everybody need to man up: humans kill more humans than bears kill humans. Bunch of sissy's.

  • posted by Charles

    March 25, 2011 5:19 pm

    I think that humans should be more cautious and a lot less weak and scared, if you do what is asked of you by officials and regulations while in the backcountry, you will most likely be safe and sound, I have encountered over 25 Grizzly Bears on Yellowstones (and surrounding) trails, I have been charged 3 times and have never been harmed by any bears, time to man up you COWARDS!!! Go Bears!!!!!!!

  • posted by bears can go!

    March 24, 2011 10:06 am

    how many hunters and hikers have to be killed in our mountains before they decide to delist these things. How many cows/sheep and other animals have fallen to the grizzly. TOO many to count. Just last year there were MULTIPLE grizzly attacks, human deaths and near death experiences. more than in past years in such a small area!

  • posted by Mark

    March 15, 2011 2:44 pm

    I vote Humans!

  • posted by Chuck

    March 12, 2011 6:23 am

    Come on people, I'm not against any animal but don't be stupid. We need to figure out if humans or animals are more important, which do we want to survive and continue to thrive. When you get to many barn cats what happens? Just a question.

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