Just as promised earlier this year, a coalition of conservation groups has filed a lawsuit in a bid to stop the federal government from removing grizzly bears from Endangered Species Act protection.
The lawsuit was filed this week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Great Bear Foundation, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
The lawsuit claims that the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the grizzly's threatened status is in error because many threats to the bruin's survival in the greater Yellowstone region remain. The groups claim bear habitat continues to be destroyed, the overall bear population is too low to ensure survival, and that delisting would remove needed legal protections for the species.
Grizzly bears in the Lower 48 currently occupy about 1 percent of their historic range and number 1-2 percent of their historic population numbers.
"More than 270 scientists urged FWS not to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear population because it is too small and isolated for long-term viability," the groups contend. "Long-term grizzly viability will require 2,000-3,000 bears in linked populations.
"To address this problem, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to truck bears from northwest Montana to Yellowstone to maintain genetic diversity in the population. The government's decision to delist will subject the bears to hunting in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana."
John Marvel of the Western Watersheds Project says "(T)rue grizzly bear recovery means reconnecting our current grizzly bear populations and not killing bears that are reclaiming public lands that could link bear populations."
Other threats are on the horizon, too. For instance, global warming poses a danger to whitebark pine trees, which produce a fat-rich nut that many bears consume in the fall before heading into hibernation. As temperatures warm, mountain pine beetles are moving higher and higher in elevation and pose a significant threat to these pines.
According to the conservation groups, "when whitebark pine seed cone crops fail, Yellowstone grizzly bear mortalities skyrocket and the number of grizzly cubs the following spring plummets."
"Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that 20,000 polar bears are threatened by global warming, but has failed to acknowledge that grizzly bear habitat is also declining due to global warming,” says Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Additionally, the groups say that the Fish and Wildlife Service's delisting proposal would provide habitat protections for only 60 percent of currently occupied grizzly habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Under that plan, they add, "nearly 2 million acres of high-quality grizzly bear habitat would be open to increased motorized access, more than 630,000 acres would be open to logging, and more than 850,000 acres would be open to oil and gas development in the Yellowstone ecosystem."