EDITORIAL: Grizzlies’ delisting the right — and not right/left — decision


To hear some tell it, last week’s announcement that the federal government will remove Endangered Species Act protections for the grizzly bear was either a triumph or failure of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Wyoming’s Republican Congresswoman, Rep. Liz Cheney, offered that, “for years the Obama administration failed to acknowledge the successful hard work and dedication of the state, tribal, and federal partners which led to the healthy recovery of the grizzly bear population inside the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” — praising the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to turn the bears’ management over to the states, “where it should be.”

On the other side of the debate, Stan Grier — chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, Canada — told the Los Angeles Times that, “This announcement is no doubt being celebrated by trophy hunters like Don Jr. and Eric Trump, and the president’s extractive industry cronies, but for us it is an act of cultural genocide.”

Those are juicy sound bites, but, to differing degrees, both Rep. Cheney and Chief Grier made political hay at the expense of the facts.

Setting aside Grier’s misleading implication that delisting will somehow lead to a greater Yellowstone oil and gas boom, don’t forget that it was actually the administration of President Barack Obama — the same Democrat who drew ire in many Wyoming circles for tipping the scales too far in favor of preservation — that laid the groundwork for Thursday’s delisting decision.

The Obama administration spent years putting together a case for delisting the grizzly; that culminated in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing to remove federal protections for the species (again) in March 2016.

The main reason the grizzly has not been under state management over the past decade is because of a legal challenge mounted by several environmental groups and rulings from U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, Montana, after Fish and Wildlife delisted the bear in 2007.

In short, the facts undercut Rep. Cheney’s suggestion that the Obama administration was the villain in the long, drawn-out process of delisting the bear. And beyond being incorrect, framing delisting as a Republican Party achievement obscures what is actually a bipartisan consensus: The grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is recovered.

The Tribune’s editorial board is not made up of scientists or bear experts. But when actual experts, like those at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, say grizzlies’ more and more frequent appearances in the Cody and Powell areas are because they’ve filled up their suitable habitat, that explanation sure makes a whole lot of sense to us.

You can’t blame bears for spreading out and trying to live in areas they historically inhabited. But, for better or worse, humans have moved into parts of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The aim now should be protecting the areas that are still suitable for bears while minimizing potentially deadly conflicts between people and bruins.

We believe it’s time for the State of Wyoming to take over that management, with hunting and other methods. We trust the Game and Fish Department will manage the species wisely; after all, what state or state agency would want to ruin what’s been a tremendous comeback — from only 136 grizzlies in 1975 to upwards of 700 animals in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho today?

Not everyone agrees the grizzly is fully recovered and ready for state management, but Presidents Obama and Trump do. And when those two divergent administrations reach the same conclusion, it’s probably worth taking notice.