Monday, September 21, 2009

Yellowstone grizzlies back on the list

Two years after federal officials announced their "amazing" recovery, grizzly bears near Yellowstone National Park have been given renewed federal protections by a federal judge who expressed concern that climate change, among other factors, could impair the bears' hopes for survival.
Only a short announcement, but you can read a little more here. And a longer article here.

The grizzly bears in Yellowstone seemed to be in real trouble in the early 1970's, when a crash program of closing the garbage dumps that they loved to frequent, plus a hyper-aggressive program of removing bears that spent too much time in campgrounds, combined to eliminate some 88 bears in the years 1970 and 1971. This was out of population that numbered somewhere from 150 to 300, depending on whose numbers you believed*; either way, those kinds of losses were clearly unsustainable and the Yellowstone grizzlies went on the Endangered Species List in 1975.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem now contains some 500 bears, the target level for considering grizzlies to be "recovered," and that is indeed a great success story. The bears were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007. However, the judge agrees with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the corresponding state agencies, have failed to establish a plan that has any legal teeth to it, should the bear population start to fall again. So back on the list they go, at least until a more solid management plan can be devised.

* The dispute over the most accurate bear census was extremely bitter. You can read about the whole fracas in Paul Schullery's The Bears of Yellowstone and Frank Criaghead's Track of the Grizzly.

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