Don't Delist the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear: USFWS needs to hear from you! 

By David Ellenberger, Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project

As the Great Bear snoozes, blanketed by snow in the heart of the Northern Rockies, the debate over its future continues to burn. The battle over grizzly protection has just flared up again with the March 1st release of the draft Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Yellowstone Area (CS).

This document represents one of the last pieces of the puzzle that has to be in place before the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) can remove Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone grizzly bear (delisting). The CS also sets standards for bear and habitat protection in a post-delisting world. Since the Great Bear is an ecological barometer for the health of the ecosystems of the West, grizzly delisting is an important issue for other wildlife too, casting a long shadow over the future of other species such as elk, native trout, bighorn sheep and wolves.

The good news is that Americans care deeply about protecting the grizzly bear as evidenced in FWS's recent public comment period on grizzly habitat protection, the Draft Habitat-Based Recovery Criteria for the Yellowstone Ecosystem. More than 95% of nearly 17,000 respondents said they want better protection for the bear and its habitat, including wildlife supporters in all 50 states and a few foreign countries. Thanks to these comments, conservationists appear to have successfully pushed back the timeline on when the bear will be delisted. However, political pressure to delist continues and that timeline could change quickly.

Federal and state agencies have pursued premature delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly with a dogged determination to use the Great Bear to demonstrate "success" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Still, grizzly experts are worried about the implications of escalating private land development in bear habitat and uncertainty about the key food sources such as white bark pine, imperiled by an introduced disease, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which is threatened by whirling disease and introduced Lake trout in Yellowstone Lake.

Pressure by some elected officials is fierce to delist the grizzly and facilitate exploitation of public wildlands. It is critical that the CS truly protect bears and key bear habitat into the future. Your voice for the bear, and the wildland ecosystems it represents, is desperately needed. Please take a minute today to write the agency. Tell the Fish and Wildlife Service that the Conservation Strategy falls short of protecting grizzly bear habitat for the long-term. Ask the agency to:

  • Protect sufficient habitat. The Recovery Area boundaries must be changed to include areas currently used by bears as well as areas vitally important for food and habitat. Boundaries must be based on the needs of bears, not a desire to open more lands to industrial development.
  • Strike the plan's loopholes that allow for destruction of thousands of acres of bear habitat within the recovery zone. One such loophole in the current document allows for a one percent loss of much of the remaining bear habitat. 
  • Protect lifelines. Wildlife corridors between Yellowstone and Canada are vital to the long-term survival of grizzlies in the lower-48 states. Unfortunately, the government's plan proposes only to "study" these linkages but provides no guaranteed protection, even on an interim basis. The plan should call for action, not more study. 
  • Restore degraded habitat. The current plan identifies important grizzly bear areas where habitat is degraded below acceptable levels. However, it does not set any goals or timelines that agencies must meet to restore this degraded habitat. It only states these areas need "improvement." The Fish and Wildlife Service should require that these problem areas be brought up to standards that will sustain bears. 
  • Provide real standards for motorized access in grizzly habitat. Governmental standards are based on an arbitrary acceptance of 1998 road levels, not on the demonstrated needs of grizzlies and other wildlife.

To receive a copy of the draft Conservation Strategy for the Yellowstone grizzly bear, contact Laird Robinson of the Forest Service in Missoula at 406-329-3434. The draft Conservation Strategy is also available via the Internet at http://www.r6.fws.gov/endspp/grizzly/.

Public comments on the Conservation Strategy should be received by the Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University Hall, Room 309, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812 or electronically mailed to FW6_grizzly@fws.gov by May 30, 2000.

For More Information: Please contact Louisa Willcox or David Ellenberger Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project234 E. Mendenhall, Bozeman, Montana  (406) 582-8365  (406) 582-9417 fax.  Check out our website for further analysis of the Conservation Strategy -- www.sierraclub.org/wilderness/grizzly

 

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