Yellowstone grizzly bear removed from endangered list

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The U.S. Department of Interior announced it intends to lift endangered species protections for the population of grizzly bears living in the greater Yellowstone region on Thursday.

Eliminating threatened species protection under the Endangered Species Act paves the way for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to take over responsibility for the big bear from federal managers outside the park.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 or more today. While those inside Yellowstone and nearby Grand Teton National Park will remain protected, wildlife officials in the surrounding states - Montana, Idaho and Wyoming - will now manage grizzlies that stray outside.

"With the help of the Endangered Species Act and sufficient dedicated funding for collaborative conservation efforts, we can restore populations of grizzly bears in other wild places in the West", said France in a statement.

"With this act, management control of the Grizzly Bear in the Yellowstone Ecosystem returns to Montana, where it belongs. This is great news for Wyoming".

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who has backed the de-listing since 2013, also praised the decision. In Yellowstone, bears make use of some 265 food sources, from the roots of tiny wildflowers, to moths and ladybugs to elk.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take grizzlies off the Endangered Species list by late July. Losing protection could have a devastating effect on the bears' genepool.

She said the group would also continue working with local ranchers and landowners in the region "to promote coexistence efforts between humans and their grizzly neighbors that can prevent bear mortalities and conflicts". Grizzlies that leave the park or live outside in the Greater Yellowstone area - they will be managed by the states and tribes.

"It's tragic that the Trump administration is stripping protections from these magnificent animals just to appease a tiny group of trophy hunters who want to stick grizzly bear heads on their walls", said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The department noted that stable population numbers for the bear for more than a decade suggest that the Yellowstone area's ecosystem is at or near its capacity to support the animal.

However, many conservationists argue that Thursday's decision adds yet another threat to the future survival of the bears, whose habitat they say is already endangered by climate change. He said it is the "culmination of decades of hard work" on the part of tribal, federal, state, and private partners.

The move comes almost two years after then-USFWS director Dan Ashe signaled to state wildlife agencies his agency was mulling a removal of protections. The reality is there will be very minimal hunting of grizzly bears for the next several years. As I said, we tried to delist in 2007. FWS first published its proposed delisting rule in May 2016, and that development came as little surprise, given the signals broadcasted by various agencies months earlier.