Grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats. Yellowstone National Park / Flickr
Sep. 04, 2017 07:30AM EST
By WildEarth Guardian
Wednesday, WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the agency's flawed rule stripping grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Endangered Species Act protections. The service's premature removal of crucial federal safeguards undermines the recovery of the species as a whole, while subjecting grizzlies stepping outside the safety of our national parks to state-sanctioned trophy hunting.
"The Service failed to carry out its paramount—and mandatory—duty to ensure grizzly bears in the contiguous United States are recovered to the point at which the protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary," said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "The Service's decision is riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in the crosshairs of extinction once again."
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Jun. 23, 2017 12:28PM EST
Watch above as Newsy explains that the decision comes despite serious concerns from the environmental and scientific community, and Tribal Nations about a declining, isolated grizzly bear population with diminishing food resources and record-high mortalities.
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Jun. 22, 2017 03:57PM EST
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone region on Thursday from the Endangered Species List. The decision comes despite serious concerns in the scientific community about a declining, isolated population with diminishing food resources and record-high mortalities, as well as strong opposition from an unprecedented number of Tribal Nations.
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Grizzly bears venturing from dens in search of food this spring will face landscapes dominated by mines, roads, pipelines, clearcuts and ever-expanding towns and cities. As in years past, they'll also face the possibility of painful death at the hands of trophy hunters.
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Sep. 30, 2016 01:50PM EST
Tribal leaders from the U.S. and Canada signed a joint treaty today opposing the proposed delisting of Yellowstone grizzly bears by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). More than 50 federally recognized tribes, backed by the 900,000-member Assembly of First Nations, support the treaty.
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Apr. 11, 2014 11:23AM EST
The controversial trophy hunt for at-risk grizzly bears in the province of British Columbia, Canada, re-opened this month and is now in full swing.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Scrutiny of this hunt was ramped up last year with new evidence that its economic benefits are small when compared with ecotourism. Add to this further research that suggests hunting management strategies impose considerable risks to bear populations and it’s not surprising that concerns are being raised.
There is strong opposition from many indigenous groups, which have renewed calls for the government to respect tribal laws that ban the hunt on their traditional territories.
They are not alone—recent poll data suggests that 80-90 percent of citizens in the province, including hunters who target other species, oppose the trophy hunt.
Nevertheless, despite this opposition the hunt was not only re-opened but expanded on April 1—what might have passed for an April Fools’ joke was instead presented as “science-based” management.
Protecting Against Over-Kill
But our recent study casts doubt on this “science-based” management. We found that between 2001-2011, human kills of grizzly bears (of which four out of every five were from trophy hunting) exceeded government limits in half of all hunted populations.
We also found that hunt targets were not conservative because they did not properly take into account uncertainty in bear numbers, population growth rates, or poaching rates.
This uncertainty is not surprising: counting bears accurately in their remote wilderness habitats is difficult, let alone studying how quickly they reproduce and replace lost individuals.
To address this we described a management approach that explicitly takes uncertainty into account. To keep the probability of over-kill below 5 percent, targets would need to be reduced by 80 percent, and one-third of hunted bear populations would need to be closed to hunting.
Surprisingly, shortly after this study was released, the government instead announced plans to increase the number of bears to be hunted and to re-open the hunt in two populations that had previously been closed because of over-kills.
Managers stated that “because we recognize inherent uncertainty in our population and harvest rate estimates, conservative mortality targets are used.” While the government used language reminiscent of the recent study, they decided to expand the hunt, contrary to its conclusions.
The minister in British Columbia responsible for managing the hunt came under fire repeatedly in the provincial legislature for this. He was also criticised for claiming in a press release that sustainability of the hunt was confirmed by another study—which was not the case.
This raises the question—are “science-based” management decisions actually guided by science?
Scientific research and enquiry is held up for external scrutiny through the peer review process. This ensures key scientific values: transparency, rationality and reliance on rigorous evidence.
Scientists have no choice about this. If they want to publish their work in a credible journal, it needs to be peer-reviewed. Work that does not stand up to scrutiny gets rejected. But there is no such requirement for most wildlife management decisions, even those claiming to be “science-based.”
Although scientists might spend years gathering and analysing data, packaging it into a manuscript, and revising their work in light of reviews by independent experts, politicians can make “science-based”claims without any such checks.
For ‘Science-Based’ Read ‘Politics-Driven’
Not surprisingly this can and does lead to decisions guided more by politics than by science. The infamous collapse of the cod fishery in eastern Canada in the 1980s comes to mind.
And more recently, the science behind efforts to remove gray wolves from the US Endangered Species Act, and in the decision to cull badgers in the UK, has also been questioned.
A recent letter in the journal Science has pointed out this shortcoming in“science-based” wildlife management, and following the letter’s release, more stories of questionable science emerged. It seems examples of scientific shortcomings might be the rule, not the exception.
Independent Peer-Review for Wildlife Managers?
Fortunately, the well-established scientific publishing process can provide ways to improve management decisions: subjecting management decisions to the same outside scrutiny expected of scientists would be an important first step.
As well as making science management more rigorous and transparent, external peer review would have the added bonus of helping to bridge the long bemoaned science-policy gap.
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Nov. 23, 2011 05:20PM EST
Grizzly bears living in the Yellowstone region won a reprieve Nov. 22 from efforts to remove federal endangered species protections from the population. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously agreed that one of the grizzly's key food sources, the whitebark pine, has become so ravaged by climate change that the bears' future remains undeniably threatened.
“Grizzlies are still fighting for their survival in Yellowstone," said Louisa Willcox, senior wildlife advocate for Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Grizzly bears have made great progress in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but they are still very vulnerable, and we must maintain the protections that have brought the bears back from the brink of extinction. Since one of their key food sources is disappearing in Yellowstone, we must develop a long-term plan to help the bear adapt to the results of climate change on their habitat."
The number of Yellowstone bears has declined this year, but the dip may be steeper as the loss of whitebark pine and increasing conflicts take their toll, according to Willcox. NRDC is calling for climatologists and whitebark pine experts to increase their engagement in the grizzly bear recovery issue—predicting climate change impacts on whitebark pine and other grizzly bear foods will be vital to ensuring their future in the Greater Yellowstone. NRDC also supports expanding efforts to reduce human-bear conflicts, which have increased as whitebark pine has declined. “By maintaining federal protections, this ruling provides the framework to pursue these critical steps," Willcox said.
The decision comes in response to a challenge to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's effort to remove endangered species protections from the Northern Rockies grizzly population in 2007. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition brought the challenge, with a similar suit also filed by NRDC in another court. The sudden disappearance of whitebark pine has completely changed the landscape for grizzlies in the years since the service's decision, which was noted by the court Nov. 22:
“…the study on which the service relied to demonstrate long-term grizzly population growth included data only until 2002, before the “epidemic of mountain pine beetles" began to kill the region's whitebark pines. It is not rational for the service to rely on grizzly population trend data from a time of natural pine seed variability in order to predict the effect on the grizzly population of an overall whitebark pine tree decline."
Numerous studies have shown a clear correlation between the abundance of whitebark pine cone crops and human-bear conflicts. In years with large cone crops, the bears forage at higher elevation, far from high densities of people. When cones are scarce, the bears move closer to places where more people are. While the bears are omnivores, the pine nuts offer a high calorie food source at a time when little else is available of similar nutritional value. Many researchers have expressed concern over the impact this will have on the future of the grizzly bear population, and the animals' movements in search of new food sources, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Recent NRDC/Forest Service research has shown that more than 80 percent of the whitebark pine forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are now dead or dying due to a mountain pine beetle infestation brought on by warming temperatures.
“Some will paint this as a sign that the Endangered Species Act doesn't work," said Willcox. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The grizzlies' comeback is a clear success story. The bears simply would not exist in the Greater Yellowstone if not for the act's legal protections and the hard work of many to look after the species. But due to changing conditions, we will all need to redouble efforts to focus on conflict resolution efforts as the bears seek out new food sources in their range."