Senate Committee considers delisting grizzlies

By Laura Bies

Legislation considered by a Senate committee last week would remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area from the Endangered Species Act. Credit: Ania Tuzel

Under legislation considered last week by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the Department of the Interior would be required to remove the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife. The legislation in question, the Grizzly Bear Management Act (S. 614) would also exempt the delisting from judicial review.

The status of the GYE population of grizzly bears has been contested for several years. Most recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population in 2017, but that decision was challenged in court. The case is currently pending in a federal appeals court.

The Wildlife Society endorsed the USFWS’ 2017 proposal to delist the Yellowstone area grizzly bears, “so long as recovery targets continue to be met and demographic rate thresholds are maintained.”

The Grizzly Bear Management Act was introduced in the Senate in Feb. 2019. In March 2019, a companion bill (H.R. 1445) in the House of Representatives was referred to the Natural Resources Committee, which has not taken any action on the bill.

During the Senate hearing, Pat Crank, vice president of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, spoke in favor of the bill and emphasized that wildlife professionals supported the delisting effort. “The USFWS along with state wildlife managers are the experts on ESA listing (and) delisting decisions, and their decision should control the outcome,” testified Crank. Chuck Roady, a timber company representative and member of Montana’s Grizzly Bear Advisor Council, also testified in support of the legislation.

John Leshy, who served as Solicitor at the Department of the Interior during the Clinton administration, cautioned against excluding the delisting from judicial review. “[O]verall, the benefits of judicial review clearly outweigh its costs. Court decisions have helped clarify ambiguities, reconcile disparate provisions in complex statutes like the ESA, promote fair processes (including insuring that all affected interests are heard), and curb agency excesses—all the while working to fulfill the intent of Congress,” he testified.

Approximately 700 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes parts of northwest Wyoming, southwest Montana and eastern Idaho. Grizzly bears throughout the contiguous United States were first listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. The listing classification was later modified to include several different populations. As of 2018, there are about 1,800 grizzly bears in the contiguous U.S.

The current Congress ends Jan. 3, 2021; any legislation not passed by that date will need to be reintroduced in a future Congress to receive consideration.

Read TWS’s Position Statement on The U.S. Endangered Species Act and Issue Statement on the Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area

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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