Grizzly Bears and the Endangered Species Act
On July 28, 1975, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states as “threatened,” in part, because the species was reduced to only about 2% of its former range south of Canada. Five or six small populations were thought to remain, totaling 800 to 1,000 bears. The southernmost—and most isolated—of those populations was in Greater Yellowstone, where 136 grizzly bears were thought to live in the mid-1970s. The goal of an Endangered Species Act listing is to recover a species to self-sustaining, viable populations that no longer need protection. To achieve this goal, federal and state agencies:
The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was established in 1993 and revised in 2006. It has four demographic and sustainable mortality goals for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This plan guides management when the grizzly is on the threatened species list. Bear managers use the Grizzly Conservation Strategy when the grizzly is off the threatened species list. The Conservation Strategy is the long-term guide for managing and monitoring the grizzly bear population and assuring sufficient habitat to maintain recovery. It emphasizes coordination and cooperative working relationships among management agencies, landowners, and the public to ensure public support, continue the application of best scientific principles, and maintain effective actions to benefit the coexistence of grizzlies and humans. It incorporates existing laws, regulations, policies, and goals. The strategy has built-in flexibility:
Legal Status of the Population
The grizzly bear population has grown robustly since 1983. The rate of growth has slowed somewhat in the last decade, likely due to increased population density. Grizzlies are raising cubs in all portions of the recovery zone. They have also dispersed into habitat well outside of the recovery zone. Bears range south into the Wind River Range, north through the Gallatin Range, and east of the Absaroka Mountains onto the Plains.
For these reasons and because the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem was determined to be a distinct population segment that met all the population criteria for delisting, the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population was removed from the threatened species list in 2007 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Several groups advocating to re-list the bears as a threatened population, filed lawsuits challenging the decision.
In September 2009, a federal district judge overturned the delisting ruling, placing grizzly bears back on the threatened species list claiming: (1) the Conservation Strategy that guides management after delisting was unenforceable and non-binding on state and federal agencies, and (2) that the US Fish and Wildlife Service did not adequately consider the impacts of the potential loss of whitebark pine nuts, a grizzly bear food source.
In January 2010, the Department of Justice and the US Fish and Wildlife Service filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. Contesting, among other points, that the judge did not consider information on whitebark pine provided in the US Fish and Wildlife Service legal briefing, and should have deferred to the opinion of federal experts to interpret biology.
In November 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the whitebark pine issue, resulting in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population remaining on the threatened species list. The panel ruled in favor of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the issue of the Conservation Strategy providing adequate regulations to conserve bears after delisting.
Meanwhile, management of the bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem changes little whether it is listed on the threatened species list or not. Scientists will continue to monitor the long-term recovery goals for grizzly bears and strive to ensure the criteria are met.
Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan: New Population Monitoring Criteria
X = Objective was achieved.
The grizzly bear was listed as a Threatened species in 1975, which required recovering the species to a self-sustaining population.