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Grizzly bears may lose federal protections in parts of the Northern Rockies

Jake Davis/ USGS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday, Feb. 3 that it will consider lifting federal protections for grizzly bears near Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Department officials will now study grizzly populations in those areas before making a final decision in at least a year.

In a press release, Fish and Wildlife said state officials provided “substantial” evidence that these bear populations have recovered to the extent that they no longer need to be classified as endangered or threatened. They are currently protected on the threatened species list. There are around 2,000 grizzlies living in the Lower 48.

States, including Wyoming, have petitioned the federal government multiple times in the past couple of years to delist the species. They say allowing for more local management would provide better protections for population centers and agricultural interests.

“The population of the bear is far above long-established recovery goals,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement praising the recent federal decision. “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.”

Others have slammed Fish and Wildlife’s announcement. Andrea Zaccardi with the Center for Biological Diversity said states shouldn’t be trusted and will look to establish big game trophy hunts.

“We've seen how they've been managing wolves. Especially over the past year, Montana and Idaho have both passed regulations approving extremely aggressive hunting and trapping seasons,” she said. “We believe they would do the same thing with grizzly bears.”

Zaccardi said bears can’t handle much hunting and trapping because their reproductive rates are too slow.

Since 2005, Fish and Wildlife has already tried twice to take the bear off the endangered species list – in both cases failing due to court rulings. Wyoming has drafted a grizzly bear hunting plan if they were delisted.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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