The Obama Administration has passed a flaming-hot coal to the Trump Administration – pushing to the incoming leadership at the Interior Department the decision to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bears. Yesterday, news outlets reported that a Rocky Mountain region official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the agency would have to evaluate public comments and it could take another six months before it could take any action on the issue.
In a signal of exactly where the American public is on the issue, the agency received a staggering 650,000 comments on the prospect of delisting, nearly all of them opposed to handing off authority to the states to manage grizzly bears. What’s more, there’s been not just a unanimous expression of opposition among animal welfare and environmental groups, but also among Native American tribes, who have called for continued protections for a species that is central to their creation stories. More than 125 tribes in the United States and Canada have expressed their sentiments, including all of the tribes in the Northern Rocky Mountain region.
There are approximately 700 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area, and wildlife managers have cataloged more than 100 grizzly deaths during the past two years – most of them human-caused. Many independent wildlife biologists say that this level of human-caused mortality is unsustainable for the slowly reproducing bears, and all of that is compounded by the effect of climate change on two critical food sources — white bark pine and cutthroat trout. With pine nuts and fish much more difficult to gather, the bears must search out other food sources. That requires them to use more energy and often forces them to roam more widely outside the protections of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, and to come into more conflicts with elk hunters and public lands cattle growers – a circumstance where the bears almost always lose.
Last May, nearly 60 prominent biologists and conservationists submitted a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service criticizing the plan to delist. Last month, filmmakers Anthony Birkholz and Marni Walsh released a short video, “Keep Grizzlies Protected: Yellowstone’s Grizzly Science,” featuring leading carnivore and conservation biologists, including Dr. Jane Goodall, as well as climate change scientists, who expressed grave concerns about kicking authority to the states. The video urges the continued protection of this iconic species by restoring them to suitable habitat in which they are well-protected, and reconnecting isolated populations, rather than allowing trophy hunters to gun them down.
In the coming months, we’re likely to see serious efforts in Congress to prevent continued federal protection for another big-name apex predator in the lower 48 states – the gray wolf. Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wisc., with Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced legislation to remove federal protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region and to deny any judicial review of the action. With Republican majorities in both chambers, and with the Trump Administration likely to actively support trophy hunting, this is a perilous moment for wolves. In order to retain federal protections for them, we’ll need a massive outpouring of concern from citizens to their lawmakers. If they are delisted, we can expect more than 500 of the 5,000 wolves in the lower 48 to be shot, trapped, snared, and even chased by packs of hounds this coming fall and winter.
Please call your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators and urge them to oppose any delisting bills or amendments or riders in Congress because they subvert judicial review and fly in the face of science that shows wolves are not adequately recovered to remove protections and turn management over to states that have pledged to immediately begin killing them again. Your comments on the grizzly bear delisting proposal have enormously influenced decision makers, and now it’s time to speak up loudly and in overwhelming numbers for the wolves.