Dear Grizzly People Supporter:
Thought you might be interested in an update on the status of Yellowstone
grizzly bear delisting, and the work of NRDC's Wild Bear Project to ensure
the health of the grizzly bear population in the Northern Rockies. As female
grizzlies now emerge from their dens in the high country, they face an increasingly
uncertain future, with mounting development pressure and human activities.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(FWS) announced its plan to remove endangered species protections for Yellowstone's
grizzly bear populations. NRDC is committed to fighting this decision in
order to protect grizzlies from excessive killing and to ensure that needed
habitat is not exploited for development. Attached are some selected news
clips on the coverage of the delisting announcement.
On April 2, we filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the federal government
over the delisting decision. Co-plaintiffs in this case are Sierra Club,
Western Watersheds, Great Bear Foundation, Alliance for the Wild Rockies,
the Humane Society of the U.S., Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, and
Center for Biological Diversity. We are represented in this case by the
able attorneys at Earthjustice. We plan to file the lawsuit as soon as the
60 days expire.
The delisting decision will cast a long shadow on the future of Yellowstone's
bears, as well as other grizzlies in the Northern Rockies. Yellowstone grizzly
bears have made a remarkable comeback since they teetered on the brink of
extinction nearly thirty years ago. But they have survived only because
of the Endangered Species Act-and they are not out of the woods yet. Bears
face great threats to their future that would be even more daunting if they
were stripped of their protected status.
Since the debate over grizzly bear delisting began ten years ago, scientific
information has mounted about the threats to grizzlies and its important
food sources. Of particular concern is whitebark pine, which is vulnerable
to disease, mountain pine beetles, and the effects of global warming. Warmer
temperatures have spurred the outbreak of mountain pine beetles that are
wreaking havoc on whitebark pine trees, which provide nutritious nuts that
are essential for the bear's survival. The combined effects of global warming,
mountain pine beetle outbreaks, and increasing infection from an introduced
pathogen, white pine blister rust, are likely to be devastating to Yellowstone's
whitebark pine forests-as well as to the grizzly bear. You may have seen
the New York Times articles in January on this issue (attached); this was
the result of work we have been doing with whitebark pine expert Dr. Jesse
Logan, and an expedition we led last August into the Wind River range.
As with polar bears, grizzly bears are living in a world of shrinking habitat
due to warming weather. Yet, in the final delisting rule, Fish and Wildlife
Service didn't anticipate global warming, and didn't develop a game plan
for the loss of whitebark pines and the related harm to grizzlies. A reasonable
response would have been to ensure protections for additional suitable grizzly
habitat that will be needed to offset the loss of whitebark pine. Particularly
good wildland habitat exists in the Wyoming Range, Palisades, southeastern
Absarokas, and Wind River Range. But with pressure from the states and managing
agencies, FWS has steadfastly refused to extend protections to these areas,
which lie outside an outdated and artificial "recovery zone."
In addition, grizzly bear delisting means removal of protections for currently
occupied bear habitat, including limitations on road building, logging,
and oil and gas development in much of the public lands currently used by
bears. Nearly 40% of the lands used by grizzly bears today in the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem lies outside the core "recovery zone." And
although U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counts the bears outside this area
to conclude the population meets recovery levels, the agency has not taken
steps to ensure the bear's viability in those areas after delisting. Thus,
the delisting rule puts any bears that wander outside this area at increased
risk of death. This is especially problematic since the states aim to hunt
grizzlies and since the governments of four counties in Wyoming (comprising
25% of current grizzly habitat) have passed laws declaring that grizzlies
are "unacceptable" and should be killed. With the lowest reproduction
rate of any mammal in North America, the grizzly is especially vulnerable
to even slightly increased rates of death.
Ultimately, the debate about grizzly bears is about our commitment to maintaining
an important part of the natural heritage that is shared by all Americans.
Grizzly bears are a barometer of the health of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,
and have a special place in our history and in the hearts and minds of millions
of people. We were reminded of this fact in a review of the over 210,000
comments submitted to Fish and Wildlife Service on the delisting rule; we
found that by a margin of more than 200 to 1, Americans opposed this plan
to strip bears of endangered species protection.
In other grizzly news, bears in the Cabinet Yaak and Selkirks ecosystems
got a boost in December, when Federal District Judge Malloy ruled in our
favor on a case involving excessive road-building on the national forests
in Northwestern Montana and Northern Idaho. NRDC was represented by Earthjustice
in this case. Malloy ruled that the Forest Service had relied on incomplete
information when it adopted a new road management plan that would maintain
95% of an 8,500 mile road system that has degraded habitat for the Cabinet
Yaak and Selkirks ecosystem. The future of these tiny populations (numbering
less than 50 individuals each) is critical to recovery of the grizzly in
the lower-48 states, because geographically they are positioned to link
grizzlies in the U.S. to more robust populations in Canada.
In addition, NRDC and other conservation organizations recently requested
that FWS withdraw a permit for a copper/silver mine which would, if built,
be devastating to the few remaining grizzlies in the Cabinet Yaak Ecosystem
in northwest Montana. This is round three in the multi-year battle against
this mine, which would likely exterminate the 20 or so bears hanging on
in the ecosystem.
As threats mount to the Northern Rockies grizzlies and their ecosystems,
we are re-doubling our effort to protect this magnificent animal and icon
of western wilderness. To do this, we aim to 1) allow grizzlies to expand
where experts have shown that they can live, 2) reconnect remaining populations
with source populations in Canada, and 3) to reduce where possible, causes
of human/bear conflicts and unnecessary mortality.
President, Grizzly People
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