Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Shows Endangered Species Act Success

Americans favor keeping strong safety net for imperiled wildlife

11-15-2005 // NWF Media Team

WASHINGTON, DC -- "Yellowstone grizzly bear recovery is the best kind of proof that those in Congress who say the Endangered Species Act doesn't work are wrong," Jim Lyon, National Wildlife Federation Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs, said here today. "The nation's safety net for imperiled wildlife works and the American people want it to stay that way."

Lyon spoke during a press conference held by Interior Secretary Gale Norton at which she announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the list of species requiring the intensive care provided by the Endangered Species Act.

"The Endangered Species Act charted the path for the Yellowstone grizzly bears' recovery," Lyon, said.

National Wildlife Federation state affiliate organizations in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho also support delisting Yellowstone grizzlies.

"The Endangered Species Act has achieved another major success with the recovery of Yellowstone grizzly bears," said Tom France, Director of the National Wildlife Federation's Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center. "All of the recovery goals for grizzly bears in Yellowstone have been met or exceeded," he continued, referring to population, distribution and mortality goals established for grizzly bear recovery.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plan calls for returning grizzly bear management in the Yellowstone area that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and surrounding National Forest lands to the governments of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Grizzly bear management on state and federal lands in the Yellowstone area will be further guided by a grizzly bear conservation strategy adopted in 2003.

"Conserving imperiled wildlife is one of our greatest responsibilities as stewards of the land," France said. "We can all celebrate the fact that thanks to the Endangered Species Act our children and grandchildren will be able to see wild grizzlies in Yellowstone, something we could not have promised 30 years ago."

The National Wildlife Federation played an important role in developing the package of protections that will be implemented following delisting. The Federation, for example, was instrumental in convening a governors' round table in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in a process that has produced state plans for grizzly bear management that France termed "commendable." The Federation also made substantial contributions to decisions that increased designations of habitat for current and future grizzly bear occupancy from six million to more than 12 million acres in the greater Yellowstone region.

"A key Endangered Species Act objective is to achieve self-sustaining populations in the wild," explained Steve Torbit, Director of the National Wildlife Federation's Rocky Mountain Natural Resource Center in Denver. "That objective has been achieved in Yellowstone."

The 1993 Yellowstone grizzly bear plan contains three specific recovery goals needed to qualify bears for release from the Endangered Species Act's emergency room protections:

* Population Recovery Goal: The grizzly population must contain at least 15 adult females with cubs. Fact on the ground: The average over the past six years has been 40 female grizzlies with cubs. In 2002, 52 females with cubs were observed. Since the 1980s the population has been growing a four-to-seven percent annually thanks to the efforts that have been made to reduce human-caused mortality to grizzlies.

* Distribution Recovery Goal: Adult female grizzlies with young must occupy at least 16 of the 18 bear management units that comprise the Primary Conservation Area in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Fact on the ground: This goal has been met since 1998. In four of the last six years, adult females with young have occupied all 18 units, according to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

* Mortality Recovery Goal: Overall bear mortality must be limited to no more than nine percent of the females and 15 percent of males based on the estimate of the population of bears two years old or older, including an estimate of unreported mortalities. Fact on the ground: This goal has been met since 1996 (although a previous method of calculating
allowable mortality was slightly exceeded during 2004 and 2005).

"The facts of Yellowstone grizzly recovery are conclusive," France said. "The Endangered Species Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do. It's now time to recognize that success and move forward."

Under the Fish and Wildlife Service plan, the core of current and future grizzly bear habitat in Yellowstone will be 5.9 million acres called the Primary Conservation Area that consists of National Forest lands (58.5 percent), National Park lands (39.4 percent) and other ownerships (2.1 percent). Within this core area, land management by the Forest Service and the National Park Service is designed to assure that habitat conditions will continue to give grizzly bear needs a priority. These strategies are laid out in a Conservation Strategy and a package of forest plan revisions for the six National Forests surrounding Yellowstone.

An additional six million acres outside the primary conservation area are designated to be managed to permit continued grizzly bear occupancy and, in some cases, additional population growth and expansion into currently unoccupied areas.

"The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the other state agencies have contributed greatly to the recovery effort so far," said Mark Winland, President of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. "We are confident they will continue to do so following delisting."

"The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has been a leader in developing programs to minimize conflicts between grizzlies and people," said Chris Marchion, President of the Montana Wildlife Federation. "These efforts, coupled with education, are they key to a solid grizzly bear management program."

"Yellowstone grizzly bear recovery is a model of how federal and state agencies, along with concerned conservation organizations and the public should work together," said Kent Marlor, president of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. "Idaho is fully engaged with grizzly recovery. This is evidenced in the recommendations of the Governor's Grizzly Bear Delisting group. We back the recommendations 100 percent."

"A sound foundation is in place to ensure that grizzlies continue to thrive after they are released from the emergency room care of the Endangered Species Act," France said. "Part of that foundation is extensive monitoring so that if problems arise, corrective action can be taken."

Within the lower 48 states, grizzly bear populations have been reduced to a mere two percent of their former range due to a combination of excessive hunting, conversion of habitat to human uses and fragmentation of habitat caused by such things as extensive networks of logging roads.

Grizzly bears were brought under federal management when they were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. At that time fewer than 250 bears occupied the Yellowstone area. Since then, the coordinated efforts of state and federal agencies working with conservation organizations and private citizens have increased the population to more than 600 bears.

In addition to the Yellowstone grizzlies, approximately 600 bears occupy habitat in the lower 48, including portions of Glacier National Park and adjacent areas in Montana and in northern Washington adjacent to the Canadian border. The population of grizzly bears in Alaska is estimated at 31,700 and in Canada at 25,000.

"Now that we have achieved success in the Yellowstone area, we can bring new attention and resources to conserving other grizzly bear populations," said France. "Grizzly bear recovery has lagged in the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, North Cascade and Bitterroot areas."

The National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization protecting wildlife for our children's future.

Tom France, 406-721-6705
Sterling Miller, 406-721-6705
Steve Torbit, 303-786-8001 ext. 17

Related Resources
  • Supporting Document
    Yellowstone Grizzly Bears and the ESA (pdf)

    In 1975, grizzly bears south of Canada were listed as “threatened,” meaning they were likely to become endangered if current trends continued.

  • Supporting Document
    Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Conservation and NWF (pdf)

    The National Wildlife Federation has been engaged in Yellowstone grizzly conservation since before the grizzly was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975.

  • Supporting Document
    The Facts About Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Delisting (pdf)

    The pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to recommend that Yellowstone grizzly bears be taken off the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act is a major wildlife story.

  • Supporting Document
    General Grizzly Bear Facts (pdf)

    The lower 48 states are home to about 1,200 grizzlies, about half of which live in and around Yellowstone National Park..

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