Federal and state wildlife managers have recommended that Endangered Species Act protections be removed from grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, which would lead to limited hunting in the park.
On Wednesday, members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee voted unanimously in favor of removing Endangered Species protections on the approximately 740 grizzlies in and around Yellowstone, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will next review the intergovernmental committee's recommendation. A ruling on ending protections could come as early as by mid-2014, but environmental groups say it is too early to take the bears off the threatened list.
"The strong political pressure to remove Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region should not overshadow outstanding questions about the science supporting such a decision," Bonnie Rice, an official with the Sierra Club chapter in Montana, said in a statement. "It is vital they make a fully recovery so they don't slide back towards extension."
Yellowstone's grizzlies were removed from protected status in 2007 when they exceeded the government's recovery goal of 500. They were re-listed when a U.S. court of appeals, citing climate change as having accelerated a beetle infestation that destroys the bears vital whitebark pine food source.
However, a study conducted by an interdisciplinary group of scientists and biologist affiliated with the USGS, found that "whitebark pine decline has had no profound negative effects on grizzly bears at the individual or population level."
"These scientists don't put out garbage, they have a 95+ success rate on their research. So what they put out is going to stand," Grizzly Bear Committee committee spokesman Gregg Losinski said, "The bottom line is that the goal of Endangered Species Act is to delist these bears."
According to Reuters, Dan Ashe, the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a 2010 interview that the Obama administration would seek to lift Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Yellowstone area.