A coalition of conservation groups announced Friday, June 30, they intend to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) unless it decides to ban trophy hunting of grizzly bears.
USFWS delisted Yellowstone-area bears last month with the support of members of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who said that the population is recovered and ready for state management.
But four organizations including the Northern Cheyenne tribe and the Center for Biological Diversity argue that the most recent data is telling a different story. The interagency team that monitors grizzly bears reported declines in the population from 2014 to 2016 – partially related to conflicts with humans.
Center for Biological Diversity attorney Andrea Santarsiere said that’s also because food sources like cutthroat trout and whitebark pine are declining.
“Bears are shifting to more of a meat-based diet,” Santarsiere said. “And as a result of that, they’re coming into more conflicts: more conflicts with livestock, more conflicts with people, and more conflicts with other bears.”
Research has shown that bears generally do eat more meat during years when whitebark pine seeds are in short supply.
But advocates of delisting see the increase in human-bear conflicts as a sign that the population is high enough. Under the current plan, Wyoming will be allowed to create a hunting season until the bear population dips to six hundred or fewer.
Santarsiere says she’s not only worried about the number of bears, but also their genetic diversity.
Santarsiere said, “If they delist them, the chances of a grizzly bear actually making it to another population decrease dramatically. Because once they leave the park, they might be subjected to hunting. And that creates potential genetic problems in the long term.”
Santarsiere said a better approach would be for the USFWS to improve the corridors between populations, and wait to de-list until all grizzly bears in the lower 48 states have recovered. Supporters of delisting have said that the state needs the flexibility to manage the animals, and that trophy hunting is a helpful tool.
The groups are giving the federal government sixty days to reinstate protections before they’ll take the issue to court.