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Grizzly Bears at Risk of Being Hunted for the First Time in Decades

Animals

Once upon a time in America, back in the early 1800s, more than 50,000 grizzly bears resided between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains. By 1975, there were only 136 grizzly bears left in Yellowstone National Park. Because of this dwindling number, they were listed as a threatened species.

Fast forward 40 years and there’s good news and bad news for grizzly bears in Yellowstone. The good news? Thanks to their protected status, there are now about 700 or more grizzly bears and they have doubled their roaming range.

For the first time in decades, grizzly bears that wander outside Yellowstone National Park—where they will remain protected—could be legally hunted again. Photo credit: Terry Tollefsbol / U.S. FWS

“The recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe said last week.

The bad news? Because of this historic success, the FWS announced it wants to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the federal lists of endangered and threatened wildlife. According to the FWS, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is reaching its capacity for the bears.

This means that, for the first time in decades, grizzly bears that wander outside Yellowstone National Park—where they will remain protected—could be legally hunted if they are delisted.

The management of those roaming bears would be taken over by the governments of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and local tribes, according to a FWS FAQ. It would be up to these states and tribes to determine if and when hunting begins.

As many as 100 grizzly bears may be killed before hunting of them is once again prohibited.

When the FWS tried to delist grizzly bears in 2007, environmental groups took it to court.

In 2009, a federal judge in Montana ruled that Yellowstone grizzly bears should continue to be protected because not only were the safeguards promised by the USFWS unenforceable, but due to climate change, bears were losing a major part of their diet: the seeds from whitebark pine trees that were dying off.

The ruling was upheld two years later by a federal appeals court, which stated that the FWS “cannot take a full-speed ahead, damn-the-torpedoes approach to delisting—especially given the Endangered Species Act’s ‘policy of institutionalized caution.’”

The environmental law firm Earthjustice, which helped lead those efforts to keep the Yellowstone grizzly bear protections in place, is currently reviewing the latest delisting proposal from the FWS.

“Earthjustice will closely examine the service’s action to ensure that the Yellowstone region’s irreplaceable grizzly bear population is adequately protected,” attorney Tim Preso said in a statement.

The FWS insists it will remain committed to the conservation of Yellowstone grizzly bears if they are delisted.

“We will continue to be part of a strong monitoring program, implementation of the conservation strategy and partnership with our state and federal partners,” Ashe stated. “We are look forward to hearing from the public about the proposal and consulting with Native American tribes.”

The FWS will make its decision later this year. In the meantime, it is accepting comments from the public that include reasons why Yellowstone grizzly bears should or should not be protected.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.