Following decades of conservation leading to a successful recovery of grizzly bears in one of the nation’s most popular parks, federal game officials have proposed to remove the bruins from the endangered species list in Yellowstone National Park.
In a statement announcing the move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife said while hunting in the park would still be prohibited, the last three decades of bear restoration stands as one of America’s great conservation successes. The Yellowstone grizzly bear population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to more than 700 today, occupying more than 22,500 square miles of the Yellowstone ecosystem — an area larger than New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined.
“The recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act,” said USFWS chief Dan Ashe. “Our proposal … underscores and celebrates more than 30 years of collaboration with our trusted federal, state and tribal partners to address the unique habitat challenges of grizzlies. The final post-delisting management plans by these partners will ensure healthy grizzly populations persist across the Yellowstone ecosystem long into the future.”
The decision to propose delisting was based on more than just number of bears in the ecosystem. It also includes the quantity and quality of habitat, adequate regulatory mechanisms to maintain a healthy and viable population and a good male-female ratio.
The increasing population of grizzlies has come with conflicts in recent years, including six people being fatally mauled since 2010, the Associated Press reported.
Management will be turned over to states that border Yellowstone, mostly so hunting can be used to control the population, the AP reported. Though wildlife advocates voice a warning that hunting could reverse the species’ growth in population, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said if a public hunting needs to be pursued outside Yellowstone, it could be done.
Protection remains for about 1,000 grizzlies in and around Glacier National Park and smaller populations in Montana, Idaho and Washinton state, the AP reported. If numbers drop below 600, intentional killings through hunting and the removal of bears that attack livestock would again be prohibited.