Yellowstone Grizzly Population On Its Way to Official Delisting

Hunters advised to temper expectations for first few years, however

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

By Mark Carter

This month, Yellowstone grizzlies officially will be taken off the endangered species list.

The U.S. Department of Interior recently "delisted" the Yellowstone population, having accepted the recommendation of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which studied data from decades of independent research. Federal officials determined the bears met all delisting criteria including increased numbers and distribution and quality and quantity of habitat available, as well as the ability of the surrounding states to manage them.

The move becomes official later this month, 30 days after the publication of the DOI's final rule in the Federal Register.

The bears being taken off the list are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) which consists of portions of northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho. All other grizzlies in the lower 48 states will remain protected.

GYE grizzlies within Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks also will remain protected, but management of those bears outside the parks will fall to state wildlife agencies and native tribes in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

A Yellowstone grizzly with cub. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Hunters eager to track grizzlies may want to temper their expectations, though. While the move opens up this specific population to hunting, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president David Allen said hunters must remember that the goal is to keep the bears off the list. And he noted that anti-hunting groups will continue their work as well.

“We do caution everybody to manage their expectations about the potential of hunting grizzly bears," he said in a statement. "The reality is there will be very minimal hunting of grizzly bears for the next several years. Those who oppose the delisting are going to try and use ‘trophy hunting’ as a major obstacle and reason not to delist grizzly bears. It’s purely rhetoric and propaganda."

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The current greater Yellowstone population is estimated to be around 700 grizzlies; that number had fallen to 136 by 1975. The Yellowstone grizzly range has more than doubled since the 1970s, according to DOI. It estimates the bears now roam more than 22,500 square miles, an area larger than the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. 

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called the Yellowstone grizzly recovery a true conservation success story.

“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region," he said. "This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners. As a Montanan, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together.”