A federal judge has restored Yellowstone ecosystem grizzlies to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act. The upgrade reverses a 2007 delisting decision that gave inadequate consideration to the negative impacts of climate change on critical food supplies.
There are around 1,500 grizzly bears distributed among five areas of the coterminous United States. Until recently, the grizzlies in all five areas enjoyed federal protection as threatened species. Then, a 2007 ruling by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service delisted the 500 to 600 grizzlies living in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone National Park. For a map of the area containing the Yellowstone Distinct Population Segment (as this grizzly population is formally designated), visit this site.
The F&WS had decided that the Yellowstone grizzlies had recovered and no longer needed the stringent federal protection provided to threatened species under the terms of the Endangered Species Act. The remaining four grizzly populations retained their threatened status.
Environmentalists opposed the Yellowstone grizzly delisting, insisting that the F&WS had based its ruling on a badly flawed decision-making process. The matter went to court with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition spearheading the drive to restore the Yellowstone grizzlies to threatened status.
Today a federal district judge in Montana ruled in favor of the GYC and reversed the 2007 delisting decision. He also scolded the federal and state governments for failing to make adequate plans for managing the bears. It was a big victory for the GYC and a huge helping hand for the Yellowstone grizzlies.
The judge cited several flaws in the F&WS decision-making process as key factors in his decision to set aside the agency ruling. Paramount among the shortcomings was the agency’s failure to adequately consider the impact of climate change on food supplies critical to the bears’ survival and reproductive success. It’s long been known that warming temperatures at higher elevations are causing serious losses of whitebark pine trees whose pine nuts are a key source of nutrition for bears at precisely the time when they must hurriedly fatten up for hibernation. In giving so little weight to so vital a fact, the F&WS left its delisting ruling wide-open to reversal.
It remains to be seen whether the F&WS will appeal the judge’s decision. Meanwhile, grizzlies everywhere in the 48-state U.S., including the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, will enjoy federal protection.