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Yellowstone grizzly bears may be delisted

November 20, 1998
Web posted at: 11:45 AM EST

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of drafting a conservation strategy for the delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area and plans to have it ready for public comment by mid-December.

The environmental community is on the offensive to ensure that the bears remain protected under the Endangered Species Act until they have improved habitat and are protected from all terrain vehicle use.

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Word of delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bears first surfaced last May when Wyoming Republican Senator Craig Thomas said he had gotten assurances from Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappapport Clark that the agency would delist the bears within the next few years.

According to environmentalists, although the Fish and Wildlife Service says the decision to delist is based on science, it appears that the agency is bending to political pressure from the oil and gas industry which wants to develop fields in the Bridger-Teton, Shoshone and Targhee National Forests.

If the bears maintain their endangered species status, the oil and gas developments would not be approved due to species protection plans.

Environmentalists, and wildlife biologists, say that while progress has been made to recover the threatened grizzly since it was listed 20 years ago, delisting is biologically unsound and would reverse recent gains.

Specifically, there are concerns that delisting would open grizzlies back up to hunting and weaken the habitat protections the bears need for their survival.

An article published in the journal Ecology this summer disputes the Fish and Wildlife Service's claim that the Yellowstone grizzly bear population is stable enough to warrant delisting.

The lead author of the study, David. J. Mattson, said that "the odds are not good that we will see a stable to increasing population of bears over the next 100 years."

The grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states has been reduced to one percent of its former number and to one to two percent of its former range over the last 200 years. According to Mattson's research, the population currently stands at around 400.

The Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project says that threats to the species include oil and gas developments, subdivision development on private lands, increased recreational activity inside Yellowstone and increased all-terrain vehicle use.

In order for the bears to survive, the environmentalists say the animals need bigger recovery areas in all grizzly ecosystems and linkages between them, protection of remaining roadless habitat within these areas, and limitations on roads and all-terrain vehicle use.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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