FWS finds GYE grizzly delisting ‘may be warranted’

Formal review processes to begin for Wyoming, Montana

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SUBLETTE COUNTY – One year ago, three western states petitioned federal wildlife officials to consider removing certain segments of “threatened” grizzly bears from protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Two states – Wyoming and Montana – got word Friday, Feb. 3, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed their petitions and decided 12-month comprehensive status reviews of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE).”

Both states’ petitions presented “substantial information” toward the FWS’s 90-day reviews, according to FWS. The status reviews and findings do not indicate that delisting these two populations is warranted but “may be warranted,” the FWS announced Feb. 3.

 ”The next steps include an in-depth status review and analyses using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether the removal of ESA protections for grizzly bears in the NCDE and GYE are warranted,” wrote media contact Joe Szuszwalak. “If so, removing ESA protections would then be initiated through a separate rulemaking process, with additional public notice and comment.”

The third state that submitted a petition – Idaho – asked for all grizzlies to be delisted. “… (T)he third petition to remove ESA protections for the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states does not present substantial, credible information to warrant further action. 

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have a tri-state management agreement to monitor GYE grizzlies’ spreading out from Yellowstone. Wyoming Game and Fish produces an annual report on the GYE grizzly population that is expected in March.

In conjunction, for 2022 FWS reported at least 1,923 individual grizzlies in the Lower 48, with 727 in the GYE demographic monitoring area (DMA) of suitable habitat spreading out from Yellowstone. “In the GYE, this does not capture the entire distribution of grizzly bears,” it says.

Grizzly sightings and encounters are expanding out of Yellowstone and the DMA along the Gros Ventre and Wind River ranges as well as occasional reports in the Wyoming Range. The GYE grizzly population has been well above FWS recovery criteria for years.

“With refined population estimates, data show the population numbers more than 1,000 bears, far beyond all scientific requirements for a recovered, viable population,” 

Reactions

After the FWS’ announcement, Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project (WWP) called Idaho’s petition “laughable.”

Molvar expressed disappointment FWS “will consider delisting the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone grizzlies to appease the states of Montana and Wyoming.” He was joined by Joe Bushyhead of WildEarth Guardians.

“Delisting these isolated populations of grizzlies will violate the terms of the ESA and hamstring efforts to recover bears elsewhere in the lower-48,” Bushyhead said. “FWS should not confuse the growth of just two bear populations with recovery.”

However, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon – whose office directed the FWS petition – was pleased.

“This is a positive step,” he said Friday. “Wyoming’s petition, filed early last year, shows that – after 46 years, and over $52 million of investment by Wyoming sportsmen and women – the population of the bear is far above long-established recovery goals. In addition, Wyoming has an established framework to provide adequate protection and management of the bear in the future. I trust the FWS will continue to use the best scientific evidence, and I hope that Wyoming will soon manage this species as part of our treasured wildlife populations”

He and Wyoming Game and Fish director Brian Nesvik are poised to discuss timelines for the state’s grizzly bear management.

“Game and Fish stands ready to manage this population with robust public involvement and the best science at a moment's notice,” said Nesvik. “Game and Fish has a strong track record of managing grizzly bears during the times they have been delisted in the past.”

Sen. Cynthia Lummis was also pleased. In a statement, she said, “This announcement is welcome news for Wyoming. Grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, by all scientific measures, are fully recovered. Administrations of both parties have repeatedly recognized this fact,” said Sen. Lummis. “Grizzly bears are an essential part of Wyoming’s ecosystem, but keeping them listed hurts their population more than it helps them. I am glad Wyoming’s concerns and findings were heard, and look forward to seeing the results of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s study on the grizzly. I’m hopeful the decision to delist the grizzly is not impacted by out of state environmental extremists who don’t truly understand the science.”

FWS seeks relevant information in the 90-day comment period that began Feb. 6, especially new scientific data published since 2021, when it published its five-year status review. The public can read the report and comment on the Federal Register’s Docket Number: FWS-R6-ES-2022-0150. It also posted the 90-day finding and petition review, Q&A on the 90-day finding for the grizzly bear delisting petitions and more about the federal processes.