Court decision puts grizzly bears back on ESA list

By Laura Bies

Grizzly bears have been formally returned to the ESA list, after a recent court decision. ©Tony’s Takes

Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) in the Greater Yellowstone Area are formally back on the Endangered Species Act list after a court order was issued in September 2018.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the population recovered and removed the bears from the endangered species list in 2017, but that decision was immediately met with several lawsuits. These lawsuits were consolidated and resulted in a final decision to list the bears in late 2018.

In an Issue Statement, The Wildlife Society supports the Service’s decision to remove the bears from the ESA list and encourages the legal system to defer to the expertise of agency biologists when considering the biological issues surrounding delisting. TWS previously submitted comments on the proposed rule supporting delisting.

The court found that the Service had exceeded its authority in issuing the delisting and had not considered the effects that delisting the bear in the Yellowstone area would have on other grizzly populations.

Last week, the USFWS published a notice in the Federal Register formally returning the Yellowstone area grizzly bears to the ESA list as threatened, although those protections had been officially in place since the court’s decision in September. There are currently approximately 700 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes portions of northwest Wyoming, southwest Montana and eastern Idaho.

Grizzly bear restoration efforts are also underway again in northern Washington’s North Cascades National Park. The National Park Service and the USFWS are again taking public comments on the Draft North Cascades Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The agencies previously accepted comments on that plan in 2017.

The restoration plan and EIS evaluate the various alternatives for grizzly bear restoration and reintroduction in the North Cascades, including potential impacts on wildlife and fish, wilderness character, visitor use and recreational experience, public and employee safety and other factors.

Under the draft restoration plan, grizzlies would be reintroduced into the area to supplement low population numbers. The number of reintroductions and the time period for reintroductions will depend on the alternative chosen once the EIS is finalized.

The Wildlife Society supports the Service’s efforts to restore grizzly bears in the other five grizzly bear recovery areas outside the Yellowstone area, because without progress in these other recovery areas, the Yellowstone population will remain isolated.

Comments on the North Cascades bear plan will be accepted until October 24, 2019.

Read TWS’ Issue Statement on Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its comments on delisting.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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