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Grizzlies stay on endangered list

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain on the endangered species list until the federal government can provide better data explaining how grizzlies will fare without whitebark pine nuts.

Assisted by warmer weather, pine beetles and blister rust have decimated high altitude whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned to delist grizzlies in the area in 2007, but the Greater Yellowstone Coalition challenged that decision. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy placed the bears back on the endangered species list in 2009, siding with those who fear the sharp decline of whitebark pine could threaten the population.

In appeals court, Fish and Wildlife argued for delisting, and the coalition argued against it.

“The Yellowstone grizzly has been the focus of a laudable, decades-long cooperative research effort — one that we hope continues” said the three panel justices’ ruling. “It may be that scientists will compile data demonstrating grizzly population stability in the face of whitebark pine declines. Such information, however, simply is not in the record before us.”

“There aren’t going to be any more good white bark pine years for a very long, long time,” said Jeff Welsch, Greater Yellowstone Coalition communications director in Bozeman, Mont.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must better articulate and prove with science that the decline in whitebark pine will not adversely affect the grizzly, said Mark Bruscino, Wyoming Game and Fish Department bear management program supervisor in Cody.

Bruscino said he believes it will not be a big problem proving with science that grizzlies can continue to thrive without whitebark, he said.

Every grizzly caught for study or relocation has their percentage of body fat measured. Overall the percentage does not change during good and bad whitebark years. “With the die-off in whitebark pine, body conditions remain the same,” Bruscino said.

But Welsch said there is a direct correlation between good whitebark years and an increase in the number of cubs the following spring.

Grizzlies need more habitat. The isolated Greater Yellowstone population can’t connect with grizzlies in places like Glacier National Park, Welsch said.

While it is essential to protect habitat for grizzlies, it also is essential to protect habitat for other wildlife and human recreation too, said Bruce Fauskee of Powell.

“Either expand their range or control the numbers,” Fauskee said.

Fauskee said he watched two grizzlies feeding on a horse carcass in the Wood River drainage in mid October. They were beautiful dark bears with silver humps.

“It was an amazing sight,” he said.

In the mid 1970s, there were fewer than 100 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This year’s count from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team is 593, down from 603 last year.

The Fish and Wildlife Service revised the recovery plan in 1993, and it has been widely regarded as a success, said the judges.

Welsch said, “There is no question the recovery effort for the grizzly bear is a great conservation story.”

Delisting is feasible in the future, Welsch said.

“When the science shows that the time is right then yes, that’s the direction we (the coalition) want to go. But we’re clearly not there yet, and the court made that clear today,” he said.

Fauskee said grizzlies should be delisted, but then they should remain on the threatened list; if populations drop, they could be relisted, Fauskee said.

Bruscino said the ruling does not preclude eventual delisting.

“The agencies believe this is a ruling we can deal with and move forward at some point to get the bears delisted,” he said.

Gov. Matt Mead is reviewing the opinion and will look at Wyoming’s options over the next few weeks, said Renny MacKay, Mead’s communications director, in an email.

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2 comments

  • posted by will

    February 15, 2012 10:37 am

    It seems to me they could come up with a meriad of reason's to keep them on the ESA. Let's face it this disease that's affecting the white bark pine has been around for thousands of years. The fact that we have not been logging and letting fires burn up mature stands of tree's is why we have diseases sweep threw our forest's. It didn't wipe out Grizzlies then, and it won't this time either. They enviornmental movement is irrational and will come up with anything to keep Grizzlies protected. That's the bottom line. They're just trying to have issues that they can continue to fight about. All this so they can make a killing in attorney fee's. Grizzly bear's have a ton of different food sources and can adapt to eating different plants. This can be proved by looking at where different grizzly bear's lived throughout history. Here in colorado White bark pines don't exist and we had a very high population of grizzlies at one time.

  • posted by Jeff Clark

    November 26, 2011 8:30 am

    I think that the people who argue for protection of the grizzly bear should walk around on the wind river trail for a couple days. A person was mauled up there and we saw fresh sign every day. The LU ranch also could have some good input on the number of grizzlies seen in that particular area. There are a lot more bears than the feds think. When you see five different grizzlies on a beef carcass, you decide.

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