Grizzly sow and cubs near Fishing Bridge. Yellowstone National Park / Flickr

Good News for Yellowstone Grizzlies? U.S. to Review 'Flawed' Ruling That Removed Protections

Over the summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided to strip Yellowstone grizzly bears of Endangered Species Act protections, sparking condemnation from conservationists over the agency's “flawed" ruling.

But now, USFWS is reviewing this decision thanks to an appeals court ruling that restored protections for a completely different animal that was taken off the endangered species list: the Great Lakes gray wolf.

In August, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, ruled unanimously that USFWS was wrong in its 2011 decision to de-list the Great Lakes gray wolf and should remain under federal protection. The three-judge panel wrote then, "The Endangered Species Act's text requires the Service, when reviewing and redetermining the status of a species, to look at the whole picture of the listed species, not just a segment of it."

As it happens, the Fish and Wildlife Service used a similar method to de-list Yellowstone-area bears. Kelly Nokes, large carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians, explained to Reuters, U.S. wildlife managers removed the bears from federal protections without assessing impacts on other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states.

The Yellowstone grizzly bear has long been considered endangered, with as few as 136 bears in 1975. But in June, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke announced that the population had been recovered to the point where federal protections can be removed and overall management can be returned to the states and tribes.

There are an estimated 700 today, which “meets all the criteria for delisting," the Department of Interior, which oversees USFWS, said.

The Associated Press reported that USFWS has now opened up a public comment session on the implications of leaving the bears unprotected. While the review is pending, the animals will stay under state jurisdiction and off the threatened species list, agency spokesman Steve Segin said. The agency plans to release its conclusions by March 31.

Conservation groups responded with fierce outcry over the government's decision to de-list the grizzlies this summer.

“Without continued Endangered Species Act protections, the recovery of grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone is in serious jeopardy," said Bonnie Rice, Greater Yellowstone senior representative with Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "Inadequate requirements to protect and connect Yellowstone grizzlies to other populations and hostile state management policies will mean fewer bears restricted to an even smaller area. Grizzly bears will be killed through trophy hunts on the doorstep of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks instead of inspiring millions who come to the region just for a chance to see a live grizzly bear in the wild."

“These iconic bears need to be protected, not gunned down so their heads can go on some trophy hunter's wall," said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Facing ongoing threats and occupying less than five percent of their historic range, grizzly bears are nowhere near recovery and continue to need the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act."

National Parks Conservation Association refutes the Department of the Interior's short-sighted decision, which threatens Yellowstone grizzlies and ignores concerns, including those raised by many in the National Park Service. Despite Interior's claim, the long-term health of Yellowstone and Grand Teton grizzlies is far from certain," added Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We must ensure Yellowstone grizzlies have necessary protections in place for the population to thrive."

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