Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area no longer need the protections of the federal Endangered Species Act to ensure their survival, U.S. officials said Thursday.
SALMON, Idaho -- Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area no longer need the protections of the federal Endangered Species Act to ensure their survival, U.S. officials said Thursday.
"As a nation, we should be proud of our ability to have preserved a part of our wilderness heritage for future generations," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall told a telephone news conference announcing the plan to remove Yellowstone area grizzlies from the endangered species list.
The population of the outsize, hump-shouldered bears that roam in Yellowstone and parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming has grown to more than 500 today from 136 three decades ago, a comeback called "extraordinary" by U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett.
"There is simply no way to overstate what an amazing accomplishment this is," she said.
In the early 19th century, more than 50,000 grizzlies ranged across the vast open spaces west of the Mississippi.
Shooting, trapping and poisoning campaigns reduced their numbers to 1,000 in the lower 48 states by 1975, when they were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Some environmental groups cautioned that the bears will be hard put to overcome challenges without federal protections.
"What we're essentially being asked to do is gamble on the future of the bears when they may not have a very good system to determine if bears go into decline or if their food sources do," said Craig Kenworthy, conservation director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
NO WHOLESALE HUNTING
Under the delisting, which officially goes into effect on April 28, broad management authority over the bears will be handed to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
All three states plan to allow grizzly hunting under certain conditions, a sport banned for more than 30 years. The states also will have more flexibility to destroy bears considered chronic nuisances to humans or livestock.
Gregg Losinski, regional conservation educator with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, cautioned that delisting would not mean wholesale hunting.
"Some day we hope to have a hunt for a bear or two but it's not like, 'Whoa, let's all go out and buy a tag,"' he said, referring to a hunting license.
Environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation applauded the delisting, calling it another victory for the nation's landmark conservation law.
Others expressed concern about the potential encroachment by mining, logging and energy interests on bear habitat and about climate-caused threats to the grizzly's food sources.
The government says that an extensive monitoring program will track the post-delisting progress of Yellowstone area grizzlies.
Except for Alaska and the Yellowstone area, the nation's grizzlies will remain federally protected. Those bears, estimated at 600, range in parts of northwest and western Montana, upper Idaho and northern Washington State.
Grizzlies join bald eagles and western gray wolves, all icons of the American West, as targets this year for delisting.