• Range Writing

Grizzlies to Remain Protected

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is recommending no change to the current listed status of the grizzly bear in the lower-48 states as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) following the completion of a five-year status review. This finding to continue protection hinges of the grizzly bear's listing under the ESA as a single entity in the lower-48 states. As such, the status review and recommendation is made to the listed species as a whole.


Although grizzly bear populations in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems are biologically recovered, five-year status reviews must evaluate the status of a species as it is currently listed under the ESA to ensure it is receiving the appropriate level of protection, according to the agency.


Since grizzly bear populations other areas of the Lower 48 aren't doing as well, grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will remain federally protected – even though they are biologically recovered.


The FWS status review classified each bear population as indicated in the graphic below.

The status review also assessed future management scenarios, focused on the resiliency of each population under each scenario. Even under the scenario proposing significantly increased conservation efforts, several of the grizzly populations do not reach a high level of resiliency, thus apparently hindering the ability to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone region in the future. Here's the summary of the scenarios:

Status Assessment

FWS also prepared a 368-page status assessment for grizzlies in the Lower 48 that includes all the considerations that were used in developing the status review. It notes that the status assessment "characterizes the viability for the grizzly bear in the lower-48 States, or its ability to sustain populations in the wild over time, based on expert judgement and the best scientific understanding of its current and future abundance, distribution, and diversity. Based on our assessment of the 3Rs {resiliency, redundancy, representation}, currently and 30 to 45 years into the future, viability for the grizzly bear in the lower-48 States improves slightly if conservation efforts continue at their current rate and levels of effectiveness. If conservation efforts declines, viability also decreases. If conservation efforts increase, viability improves."


The status assessment examined a number of factors that impact grizzlies:

"Stressors with potential habitat-related effects that we analyzed include: motorized access and its management; developed sites; livestock allotments; mineral and energy development; recreation; vegetation management; habitat fragmentation; development on private lands; and activities that may disturb dens. Sources of human-caused mortality that we evaluated include: management removals; accidental killings (e.g., train and vehicular strikes); mistaken identity kills; illegal killings; and defense of life kills. We also evaluated other stressors including: natural mortality; connectivity and genetic health; changes in food resources; effects of climate change; and catastrophic events, such as widespread wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions."


Livestock Grazing

Of particular interest is livestock grazing in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The assessment noted that "a total of 106 livestock allotments existed inside the recovery zone in 1998: 72 active and 13 vacant cattle allotments and 11 active and 10 vacant sheep allotments, with a total of 23,090 sheep animal months."


Since 1998, 91% of the sheep animal months have been eliminated, with only one domestic sheep allotment remaining within the grizzly recovery zone. In addition, National Forests in the region closed 15 active and 5 vacant cattle allotments within the recovery zone since 1998.


For suitable grizzly habitat outside the recovery zone, the report notes that as of 2004, "there were roughly 150 active cattle allotments and 12 active sheep allotments," but since then, at least 3 of the sheep allotments have been closed.


Private Land

The report notes that in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, 1% of the recovery zone, and nearly 13 percent of the larger Demographic Monitoring Area outside the recovery zone is privately owned. But conservation easements and the purchase of private lands by land trusts have protected 35% of the private land within the recovery zone, and 34% of the private land within the DMA outside of the recovery zone.


Conclusion

In announcing that grizzlies in the lower 48 states should remain listed as a threatened species, FWS concluded:

"Progress toward recovering the species has been made through close partnerships with local, state, federal and Tribal agencies since the original listing in 1975. This work among recovery partners is a significant factor in the species not being listed as endangered. However, considerable challenges remain to fully recover the grizzly bear in the lower-48 states, resulting in the recommendation to continue listing it as threatened. These remaining challenges include limited habitat connectivity, management of access by motorized vehicles, human-caused mortality and uncertainty surrounding future conservation efforts in some ecosystems. The Service looks forward to continuing grizzly bear conservation work with partners at local, state, Tribal and federal agencies to fully recover the species."

To learn more about grizzly bear management in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, read Return of the Grizzly. Order autographed copies here.




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