Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Removed From Endangered Species List

Jun 22, 2017
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Interior Department says it's going to end 42 years of federal protection for the Yellowstone grizzly bear. It's taking the bear off the endangered species list. NPR's Nathan Rott covers wildlife issues in the environment. He's in the studio now. Welcome, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: So what's the reason the Interior Department gave for this?

ROTT: So the Interior Department says that the population of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area meets all of the criteria for delisting and that the population has recovered to the point where they no longer need federal protection. A little bit of history on that - the population of Yellowstone grizzlies was fewer than 150 when they were listed under the Endangered Species Act. Today there are about 700 bears in the region. So it's a pretty remarkable increase and one that the Interior Department says should be celebrated.

CORNISH: So what does that mean going forward in terms of government involvement?

ROTT: Well, there's still going to be government involvement. Bears that are in Yellowstone National Park will still have federal protection obviously like any species and the National Park. Grizzlies that leave the park or live outside in the Greater Yellowstone area - they will be managed by the states and tribes. So in this case, that's Montana, Idaho, Wyoming. Those states will have management plans in place. The feds will make sure that those plans are meeting all of their requirements. It's likely that those plans will be a little more flexible. For example, it's likely that they'll allow for limited trophy hunting for grizzly bears in those states starting sometime soon.

CORNISH: As you said, the Interior Department is saying this is essentially good news, right? It's a population that's recovered. Do conservationists agree with this decision?

ROTT: It's actually split. There are groups that think delisting is absolutely warranted. The population has recovered. And in a lot of ways, allowing people who live with or near grizzly bears to have more of a say on how they're managed is a really powerful thing. It might help soothe - I guess would be the best word - some of the ill feelings that exist between, let's say, sportsmen, ranchers, residents who feel that they haven't had any say on grizzly bears for decades.

That said, there are other groups who are completely opposed. They say that the delisting is premature, that the population of bears is unstable and that this whole move is completely political. We should note here that the delisting process was started under the Obama administration.

But there are some viable arguments to be made. There are more humans than ever on the landscape in this area, and that's no good for bears. A primary food source for grizzlies, the white bark pine, has been decimated in recent years. A couple of wildlife advocacy groups have said that they'll - already planning to sue over the decision. So this is definitely not the last that we're going to be hearing about the grizzly.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Nathan Rott. Thanks so much.

ROTT: Thank you.

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