In September 2018, a federal judge restored protections for grizzly bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem under the Endangered Species Act. This decision came after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed those protections, or “delisted” the bears, in July 2017. This is a significant decision for the management of bears and it cancelled the Wyoming and Idaho hunts that were planned on state lands for Fall 2018. As always, hunting will remain prohibited inside Yellowstone National Park.
The Yellowstone population of grizzly bears was designated, or listed, as threatened with extinction in 1975. Various agencies and stakeholder groups hold differing opinions about the status of the population and how it should be managed in the future. We'd like to share our thoughts about grizzly bears and their conservation.
1. Grizzlies have made a remarkable recovery. The growth and expansion of the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is a remarkable conservation success story. The population has grown from 136 in 1975 to about 718 today using a population estimate model called Chao2. Scientists think the Yellowstone area population is recovered and may have reached its capacity for resident grizzlies in many areas of the ecosystem. Efforts to reduce conflicts with people and preserve habitat for dispersal and, eventually, connectivity with other populations outside of the GYE will be essential for further restoration.
2. Management of bears will not change in the national parks. The conservation and management of grizzly bears inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will not change significantly through this listing and delisting process. We will continue to prevent bears from obtaining human foods, preserve wilderness to minimize human-caused mortalities and disturbances, and maintain our long-term monitoring program. We value grizzlies as a dominant species in the ecosystem—and one that offers amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Millions of people visit the park with the intention of seeing bears and connecting with the wildness of nature. Wildlife watching also brings economic benefits worth tens of millions of dollars to the region. We are proud that Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks will continue to be the heart of the grizzly population keeping this magnificent species in the wild..
3. Reducing conflicts with people is the key to grizzly conservation. Employing best practices for safety in bear country doesn't just protect people, but the welfare of animals as well. When bears kill people or damage property, bears lose. If you care about grizzly bears, learn how to share the landscape with them responsibly.
4. We will work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, surrounding states, communities, and American Indian tribes as the delisting conversation continues in the future. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the federal agency that administers the Endangered Species Act. They make all decisions about listing and delisting in consultation with other agencies, tribes, states, and the public. The National Park Service will continue to be actively engaged with these partners and provide scientific data related to population estimates, habitat, genetics, and population connectivity.
History of Listing & Delisting (1975 to 2018)
On July 28, 1975, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act, as amended, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed four distinct populations of 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 the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), 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. This plan guides management when the grizzly is on the threatened species list.
Bear managers will use the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy if the GYE population of grizzly bear is removed from the threatened and endangered 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: