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Feds to explore delisting of Greater Yellowstone, Glacier grizzlies

Public Domain

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that it is exploring whether grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems are sufficiently recovered to no longer be considered as an endangered species.

The agency’s announcement was welcomed by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and other Republican officials, who’ve long sought to restore management of grizzly bears to state agencies. Environmental and conservation groups expressed wariness at the development, questioning whether state management would sustain a healthy, stable population of grizzlies and arguing that the USFWS is not meeting the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

The agency’s decision was initiated by a trio of delisting petitions submitted to the federal government in recent years, including a 2021 petition the state of Montana filed under Gov. Greg Gianforte’s leadership. The USFWS said two of those petitions presented “substantial information” that NCDE and Yellowstone grizzlies “may qualify as distinct population segments and warrant removal from the federal government’s list of endangered and threatened species.”

A third petition, seeking the delisting of grizzlies across the Lower 48, did not present “substantial, credible information to warrant further action,” the agency said.

According to the agency’s last five-year review, there are about 1,100 grizzlies living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and about 740 in the NCDE. Before their near-extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies roamed across much of the American West.

USFWS

The agency also indicated that it would carefully consider the laws and regulations in states where NCDE and Yellowstone bears live — Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

“The Service appreciates the states’ historical commitments and partnerships to recover bears, particularly through conflict prevention efforts that have been effective in reducing human-caused mortality. However, the impact of recently enacted state law and regulations affecting these two grizzly bear populations is of concern and needs to be evaluated,” the agency’s statement reads. “We will fully evaluate these and all other potential threats, and associated state regulatory mechanisms, in detail when we conduct the status assessments and make the 12-month findings.”

“After decades of work, the grizzly bear has more than recovered in the NCDE, which represents a conservation success,” Gov. Gianforte said in a press release. “As part of that conservation success, the federal government has accepted our petition to delist the grizzly in the NCDE, opening the door to state management of this iconic American species.”

Montana Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, said the Montana Legislature has advocated for state management of grizzlies for “years.”