What was once a haven for grizzly bears could soon become a place to be hunted once again. In a leaked government letter cited by The Guardian, it seems that grizzly bears living around Yellowstone National Park could soon be taken off the endangered species list.
Under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1975, grizzlies from Yellowstone were classified as “endangered” giving them protection from hunters. At the time of classification there were only 136 grizzlies in or around the well-known park.
According to the National Park Service, in 2014, the grizzly bear population had recovered to between 674 and 839. Since 1996, the number of female bears capable of producing cubs has remained relatively stable, suggesting “the park may be at or near ecological carrying capacity for grizzly bears,” according to RT.
The recovery seems to have led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to consider the removal of the bears from the endangered species list. The Guardian has reported that a leaked letter from the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Dan Ashe, to state officials said that there was a “mutually understood process that will allow the service to proceed with a proposed delisting.”
The proposal that the FWS is considering will allow the bears to be delisted, but only under certain conditions before they become fair game for hunters. Some of the conditions include that the grizzly bear population could not fall below 600 “unless necessary to address human safety issues.” If the population exceeds 747, the mortality rates would also increase, “with up to 10 percent of adult females and 22 percent of adult males allowed to be killed via hunting and other methods,” according to The Guardian.
Even though there would be rules to protect bear populations, conservation groups are still opposed to the Yellowstone grizzlies losing their endangered status. The groups note that Yellowstone is one of the last parts of the U.S. to still have a grizzly bear population, which were once living across North America from Alaska to Mexico.
Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, told The Guardian: “Once again, we see director Ashe cutting deals for political expediency instead of following the science. The Endangered Species Act is incredibly effective at recovering imperiled species, and will do so for grizzlies across their range, but only if they retain protections until the science clearly demonstrates recovery.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is campaigning for grizzlies to be reintroduced to California, and said on their website that any delisting would be premature, and could reduce the Yellowstone population by more than 100 bears.
“Moreover, killing grizzly bears just outside of arbitrary delisting boundaries drawn on a map would be entirely legal, and would not count toward mortality thresholds put in place to protect the population from plummeting,” the group said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the FWS told The Guardian that no final decision had been made. “The Fish and Wildlife Service does believe that grizzly bears have biologically recovered, but we are still looking at the delisting proposal,” she said. “We want to see that the recovery would still be viable if protections are removed so that the species never needs Endangered Species Act protection again.”