Uproar Over Grizzlies' Likely Loss of Endangered Status

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Lost Habitat

As bear numbers have increased, Craighead says, the amount of available habitat outside the national park has decreased. "All indications are that habitat will continue to be lost," he said.

Yet the United States' largest environmental organization, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), strongly supports delisting.

Tom France, NWF director for the northern Rockies region, says state and other nonfederal agencies are well placed to take on the job of guarding the grizzly bear.

According to the delisting plan, the amount of land open to development in the primary conservation area won't be allowed to increase beyond 1998 levels.

In the managed zone outside the primary conservation area, up to 40 percent of bear habitat is already designated as protected wilderness and so is secure, France says.

The U.S. Forest Service controls a significant percentage of this outer grizzly zone, and the plan is to keep this zone undeveloped and roadless, he says.

"There isn't a document that says that beyond the six-million-acre core, this is grizzly bear habitat. But when you look at the array of management directions and other protections that exist, there's an enormous amount of very secure habitat available for bears," France added.

Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have plans to allow hunters to shoot grizzlies that become a nuisances to people. Kills must be kept within a federal mortality limit set for the entire Greater Yellowstone Area, France said.

This quota will also count bears killed as a result of road collisions or due to other human causes, and it must not exceed 4 percent of the total Greater Yellowstone Area grizzly population.

If the quota, currently set at 17 bears a year, is exceeded, an automatic management review is triggered.

"There's a real incentive for state management agencies that want a hunting season to pay very close attention to reducing all other sources of mortality," France added.

Grizzly Attacks

Nonfederal agencies and other groups have been active over the past decade in finding nonlethal ways to minimize the threat of grizzly attacks on people and livestock, France said. (See "'Grizzly Man' Movie Spurs New Looks at a Grisly Death.")

Measures include bear-proofing forest campsites outside of the national parks and paying ranchers to move their livestock off public land.

The Predator Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit group based in Bozeman, Montana, provides horseback riders to help ranchers move cattle away from bears that get too close.

"All of these programs evolved outside of the Endangered Species Act," France added. "And all these programs will continue after delisting occurs."

Besides several bird species, only two U.S. animals have been ESA-delisted due to population recovery—the American alligator in 1987 and the California gray whale in 1994.

This lack of precedence, France says, has been one of the challenges in creating a road map for delisting the grizzly.

But, he adds, "both state and federal agencies will have to do well by this plan. It will not look good on anybody's résumé if the grizzly strategy fails."

Failure, France says, would mean the bear's relisting as an endangered species. Under the new conservation plan this would be triggered, for example, if the population falls below 500 grizzlies.

"If things start coming apart at the seams, the management decision is clear, and that's a move back towards federal protection," he said.

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