Wyoming petitions for delisting of grizzlies

CASPER — Wyoming has officially asked for grizzly bears to be removed from the endangered species list.

Gov. Mark Gordon, backed by the fellow grizzly states of Idaho and Montana, on Tuesday submitted a petition for delisting to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The petition argues that the species is fully recovered in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and should be returned to state management — in Wyoming’s case, the state Game and Fish Department.

The Fish and Wildlife Service now has 90 days to determine whether to conduct a comprehensive status review of the species. It will then have 12 months from receipt of the petition to complete the status review and issue a recommendation.

“Wyoming has invested more than $52 million and dedicated countless hours of Game and Fish expertise to reach this point,” Gordon said in a statement. “We’re optimistic the Service will view the petition favorably, and we look forward to working with them on delisting.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte also filed a petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service recently, calling for the delisting of the Northern Continental Divide grizzlies — a population separate from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) bears.

Greater Yellowstone grizzly bears have been delisted before, in 2007 and 2017, but soon had their protections restored by federal courts.

State leaders are confident that the revised grizzly management plan will resolve earlier concerns about the accuracy of their population estimates and the resulting population targets, as well as the bears’ long-term genetic health.

Population measurement was a key point of contention following the 2017 delisting. After state wildlife managers changed the estimation model, the estimated grizzly population climbed by roughly 300; the corresponding minimum stable population was unchanged. The updated agreement, which sets the minimum population at about 932 bears, commits to adjusting population targets in accordance with modifications to estimation methods.

The new management actions are “so substantial that a reasonable person would conclude that the petitioned actions — the establishment of the GYE grizzly (distinct population segment) as a species that is neither a threatened nor endangered species and the revision of the List by removing the GYE grizzly bear (distinct population segment) — are warranted,” the petition reads.

Gordon pointed to grizzlies as “an extraordinary and monumental success story for species recovery and should be celebrated.” But some conservationists have challenged the states’ conclusions.

“The methods contained in the (management plan) are so egregiously flawed as to call into question the competence and motives of the wildlife managers who concocted them,” grizzly biologist David Mattson wrote in a blog post before Wyoming approved the tri-state plan.

If grizzlies are delisted, state wildlife managers would have authority over discretionary mortality — intentional killing, including euthanasia and hunting — once they’ve accounted for non-discretionary mortality. The three states have made it clear that they intend to allow hunting of bears above their established population limit.

Mattson warned in the blog post that male grizzly populations could be decimated under the new plan, especially outside parks, and that the states’ planned means of estimating population could fail to account for that loss.

Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the petition an “outrageous request” in a Tuesday statement, adding, “There is no science to back the claim that grizzlies no longer need protection. Federal officials need to send a clear message by swiftly rejecting this request.”