A Future for Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

Delisting proposal leaves out key pieces needed to keep Yellowstone grizzly bears on the road to recovery.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) submitted for public comment a rather controversial proposal: To remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for grizzly bears living in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Since that announcement this spring, a wave of opinions have rushed in from all possible sides of the issue. The agency received more than 100,000 comments on their proposal, including a set from our own team of experts here at Defenders of Wildlife.

Normally, when a species is truly ready to be delisted (to have its ESA protections removed), it is a cause to celebrate. It means we’ve beaten extinction! We are no longer in danger of watching a species disappear, we have a plan in place to keep the same thing from happening again, and we can expect to enjoy that creature’s presence on our wild lands for generations to come. At least, that’s what it should mean. But if all the right pieces of this complicated puzzle aren’t there, a short-sighted delisting can mean serious trouble for the species in question. And in the case of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, that’s exactly what we’re afraid is happening.

Grizzly with cubs, © Jim ChagaresA Long Road to Recovery

It doesn’t seem like long ago that this group of grizzly bears was too small to even consider delisting. In the 1970s, there were fewer than 200 grizzly bears left in the Yellowstone ecosystem. These lucky few were protected only as a result of living in the national park; the many grizzlies that once occupied the landscape for hundreds of miles around had been killed over the previous century as human settlers streamed into the region. It has taken decades and countless hours of hard work to get things back on track for these bears.

Yellowstone grizzlies were listed under the ESA in 1975, and granted the protection they so desperately needed. The FWS, along with state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, biologists, and many, many others have worked hard to restore the bears and secure their habitat, and to encourage tolerance for grizzlies in the region. And the work has paid off. Today, more than 700 grizzlies roam an ever-growing area in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Despite this progress, several troubling facts remain. Each year, we see a high number of human-related grizzly bear deaths. Many of these are bears that came too close for comfort, being tempted by human food items like livestock, fruit orchards and garbage. With bears expanding their range and more people living in bear habitat, this problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

These grizzlies are also still isolated. Years of protection and conservation work have created a relatively safe landscape for the bears in this region, but not necessarily beyond it. With dangerous roads and human development criss-crossing a patchwork of habitats, it will be a difficult journey for Yellowstone grizzlies to safely travel to other grizzly bear populations or for bears from other populations to get to the Yellowstone ecosystem – something Yellowstone bears need to help the species remain healthy and resilient to change.

What’s Wrong with the Delisting Proposal

While it’s clear that the number of Yellowstone grizzly bears has finally grown enough to at least have a conversation about delisting, that number is just one piece of the puzzle. There are several very important ones still missing. Habitat protection, for instance, is a serious concern. The proposal doesn’t go far enough to protect grizzly bear habitat in the face of continued development across the region.

But another issue, perhaps the biggest one, is that no one seems to have a clear plan in place for what would happen to grizzlies next. The proposal includes several documents that could address this, but they are out of sync with each other. Perhaps more alarming is that key pieces are missing altogether, including complete and adequate state plans for grizzly bear management and federal plans for how habitat on federal lands such as national forests surrounding Yellowstone will be managed to secure a place for grizzly bears into the future. If the proposal were approved today, management of grizzly bears would shift from the federal government to the states – but two of the three state plans are incomplete, and major concerns about how the states would manage bears after delisting remain unanswered.

Already, too many bears are killed each year from conflicts with humans. In 2015 alone, there were 61 bear mortalities around Yellowstone. Grizzly bears are one of the slowest reproducing mammals in North America. They cannot keep their populations strong and healthy if too many of them are killed too quickly. Eliminating ESA protections without a strong plan in place is simply not a risk we are willing to take.

What’s Next for Yellowstone Grizzlies?

With the public comment period now closed, we don’t know when the FWS will make its final decision, though they have suggested they may have a decision by the end of 2016. The agency does have to wait for the missing plans from the states and federal land management agencies, whatever form they may take. We are working to encourage state agencies to create plans that will secure a future for Yellowstone grizzlies – not put it at risk.

In the meantime, we’re certainly keeping busy. Our team is continuing the work we have done for years, confronting two of the largest threats to grizzly bears: habitat loss and grizzly bear deaths caused by humans.
We’re working with state and federal agencies, as well as private landowners, to secure grizzly bear habitat where it’s needed most. Not just around key recovery areas like Yellowstone, but corridors that would connect the isolated patches and allow grizzlies to one day travel safely back and forth. This work is especially important now, as rapid development continues throughout the region.

And as grizzlies expand into more of their historic habitat, we’re working with local communities to put tools and methods in place that keep bears out of conflict with people. This work includes solutions like cost sharing with residents on bear-resistant trash cans, or installing bear-resistant electric fencing around beehives and chicken coops – a win for everyone involved. People’s property stays safe from hungry bears, and bears move on from risky areas too close to humans. We’ve invested over a million dollars in more than 300 projects to protect bears since 1998. We strongly believe that working closely with local residents on ways that allow for both grizzly bears and people to live on the same landscape is the best way to make sure they are around for decades to come, and we’ll continue this important work no matter what FWS decides.

You Can Help

By working with communities on the ground in bear country to prevent conflicts from ever taking place, we can protect bears, people and their property.

Help us continue this important work »

18 Responses to “A Future for Yellowstone Grizzly Bears”

  1. Linda Haney

    oh permit me to ask WTF do we have to do to have the FWS align themselves with defenders and protectors of grizzly bears. I would think they would be jumping and down with the opportunity to ensure these mighty beasts have a future that they deserve. Did you get that last part? THAT THEY DESERVE. YOU PEOPLE can’t give them anything less or, get out and get a different job and STOP playing God, you aren’t good at it. SUPPORT THE ESA and go have a coffee or a cocktail and pat yourself on the back for having thought it through to see WE, AMERICANS, treasure our Grizzly Bears.

    • Craig debler

      Dont give in , they need us , can’t survive w/o us

    • Jeffrey Geist

      Pardon my cynicism, but this is just part of the ongoing destruction of the ESA – which in requiring habitat constraints on excavators (miners, drillers, frackers, etc. as well as ranchers, but particularly excavators) which has been going on around-the-clock since the Obama administration began and failed to uphold a Federal Court ruling (passed on to him by George Bush II) saying that wolves could not be delisted from the ESA. Well, Obama did not back the judge and wolves were delisted, serving frackers in particular. Obama himself personally appointed Sally Jewell as the Chief of the Department of the Interior and, as such, she is the boss of Dan Ashe, the Chief of F&WS. I personally got in his face (literally) and called him a liar in a “testimony” a few years ago in DC when he tried to convince everyone that the the purpose of the ESA was only to keep animals from becoming completely extinct (and he isn’t even doing a good job at that). Anyway, now it’s the grizzly’s turn. I could tell you more, but it’s a waste of my time. The powers that be are completely corrupt (especially the puppet, Obama who, btw, has been the poster boy for frackers throughout his administration). The ESA is all but destroyed and most Americans are completely unconscious about grizzlies AND wolves, thinking of them (when at all) as dinosaurs to be seen pretty much only the Yellowstone “Zoo.” After all, why do we need real nature when we have “virtual nature?” Unless a “product” is mostly, if not all, virtual, it is no longer real.

  2. Lisa McQuarrie

    I do not think anyone, Government or not, has ever had the right to choose the fate of theses Sacred animals, or any other Sacred animals! It has NEVER been up to us to determine their fate!
    The greed of money is so disgusting it has practically slaughtered our Sacred animals right off the earth, and it is NEVER enough money!!! Until all our Sacred animals are all slaughtered to extinction!

    • Dawn Nelson

      Way to go!!’ You said it all!!!

      IT HAS NEVER BEEN UP TO US TO DETERMINE THEIR FATE!!

      What will it take for everyone to understand that???

  3. Wayne LaBeaud

    You’ve all but destroyed the east coast…you want ALL the land…you kill the wildlife to show you are a great qhite hunter…now you want to do the same in the parks !!! ENOUGH ! may karma strike you, you families and your traditions

  4. Lynn S Warren

    Please Sign & Share this Petition to Save Yellowstone’s Grizzlies!!!

    Thank You Very Much!!!

    Lynb

  5. Joseph Reginald Cota

    Why must innocent wild creatures, be sacrificed on the alter of greed? Why should this mindless destruction take place, simply because people want to make money? Can we not appreciate the gifts that the Almighty entrusted to us, by protecting and saving these magnificent animals for others to enjoy, as well as a thank you to He who gave our nation such beautiful wildlife in the first place?

  6. Linda Cerne

    All these killings of all this sacred animals, boils down to 3 things. MONEY, GREED & POWER! Our society has become materialistic to put it mildly. We have crooked politicians, among other power figures, that hide in the shadows, that are either blackmailed or just plain darn greedy and don’t care about the consequences of destroying our beautiful country of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. ESA is just a puppet, you have the BIG PUPPET MASTERS pulling the strings and having them doing their bidding. Its like the a big chess game to them, and if you remember correctly the PAWNS which are us,who fight for what is right for protecting any wildlife of this earth, Well, all bets are off. They are expendable and so are we. If they can make money on anything by bulldoze it or tearing it down, pollute the water, poison our food, over vaccinate your children, brutalize, murder & hunt animals, mammals and other wildlife, they will do it. No conscience, no regrets, no feeling or emotion. All they see is $$$$$$$$$
    no matter what the cost, they do not care how many lives are effected by their ruthless acts,or decision making. Mahatma Ghandi said it best “The GREATNESS of a NATION and its MORAL PROGRESS can be judged by the WAY it’s animals are TREATED” We as AMERICANS who love this COUNTRY of USA, cannot let this happen to the GREAT GRIZZLIES. They, and all other wildlife is what makes this country beautiful, majestic, and memorable. Imagine for a moment no animals in sight, all gone extinct from the world. How dark and empty. Our world needs them and they need us. It’s a great ecosystem that GOD has created, leave it alone and let Mother Nature take its course for balancing nature. Everyone, please email, text, Facebook, Skype, make a documentary on Internet. Any form of communicating and getting the word out to save these Magnificent Grizzlies and all Wildlife in danger. It will be a wonderful gift to give back to the world, the animal kingdom and to our future generation to save these Grizzlies and ALL Wildlife from extension.

  7. GABRIELA VARGAS

    LOS SERES HUMANOS NO SON DIOS, NO SON NADIE PARA DETERMINAR EL DESTINO DE NINGUNA ESPECIE. TOTALMENTE CIERTO. LOS SERES HUMANOS NO PUEDEN NI TIENEN DERECHO A DETERMINAR EL NÚMERO DE INDIVIDUOS DE ALGÚN TIPO DE ANIMAL. NO PUEDEN INTERFERIR EN LA NATURALEZA COMO LES CONVIENE, Y EXIGIMOS DEJEN EN PAZ Y EN LIBERTAD AL OSO GRIZZLY, A LOS DIFERENTES TIPOS DE LOBOS, A LOS ZORROS Y TODOS, TODOS LOS ANIMALES QUE HAN SIDO MASACRADOS, PRISIONEROS Y PERSEGUIDOS POR LAS FEROCES AMBICIONES INNECESARIAS Y MISERABLES DE LOS SERES HUMANOS. YA DETENGAN SUS CRÍMENES Y URGEN LEYES QUE SALVAGUARDEN LA SEGURIDAD, LIBERTAD Y PAZ DE TODAS LAS ESPECIES.

  8. GABRIELA VARGAS

    EL OSO GRIZZLY ASÍ COMO LOS LOBOS Y OTRAS ESPECIES PERSEGUIDAS POR EL SER HUMANO, QUE ES UN ABSOLUTO INTRUSO, TIENEN QUE ESTAR PROTEGIDAS POR LEYES QUE SALVAGUARDEN SU LIBERTAD Y SU BIENESTAR, ESTÉN EN EXTINCIÓN O NO LO ESTÉN. EL ASUNTO IMPORTANTE NO ES EL NÚMERO DE INDIVIDUOS DE CADA ESPECIE, EL ASUNTO IMPORTANTE ES QUE EL SER HUMANO NO TIENE DERECHO A DETERMINAR SI ESTÁN EN LA LISTA DE ESPECIES EN PELIGRO DE EXTINCIÓN O NO, TODAS LAS ESPECIES SIEMPRE DEBEN ESTAR PROTEGIDAS POR LAS LEYES Y DETENER A CUALQUIER PRECIO LA PERSECUCIÓN, TORTURA, CAUTIVERIO Y MASACRE DE TODOS LOS ANIMALES EN TODO MOMENTO DE SU EXISTENCIA. LA ÚNICA ESPECIE EN EL PLANETA DESTRUCTIVA Y PELIGROS PARA EL EQUILIBRIO DEL ECOSISTEMA ES EL SER HUMANO!!!! ESA ES LA ESPECIE ÚNICA QUE INVADE Y DESTRUYE!!!

  9. Glenna Denman

    The ESA has been corrupted by greed and the desire for power. Where are the legislators who would protect our natural environment? We need another Teddy Roosevelt, another John Muir, more Udalls. We must not allow Big Business to take away our natural wonders.

  10. Karen Napolitano

    These agencies don’t care about animals. I couldn’t live with myself if I worked for them!’n I feel for all the animals all over the world. Nothing is safe from man!!!! It’s so depressing!!!! It’s all about money and stupidity!!!! ;( animals have feelings, they feel pain, they form family bonds!!! So sad and sick of reading what is happening to them!!!!! Do the right thing!!!!

  11. Dean Saffo

    Experts debate whether the grizzly bear can continue to thrive if it’s taken off Endangered Species Act protection in the Greater Yellowstone region. A grizzly bear steals whitebark pine nuts—an important source of food—from a squirrel’s cache in Yellowstone National Park.

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