The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that they will again consider returning management of the grizzly bear back to the states in both the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems (NCDE).
The decision came following petitions by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho last year. Federal officials were persuaded by Montana and Wyoming’s petitions, but told Idaho wildlife managers their petition did not contain “substantial, credible information” and to go back to the drawing board. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will maintain management of the grizzly in all other states.
Grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. At the time, the population of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states was estimated to be in the hundreds. Today the bear population in the NCDE alone is estimated at approximately 1,100. In the GYE, the grizzly bear recovery criteria was set at 500 bears, a target that has been achieved since 2003. Today, there are estimated to currently be 720 to 1,000 bears in the GYE.
Under federal rules, the FWS has 90 days for their initial response to a petition. Montana’s petition was initiated on December 7, 2021, meaning that it took the agency more than 400 days to respond. Wyoming’s petition was dated January 11, 2022.
“After decades of work, the grizzly bear has more than recovered in the NCDE, which represents a conservation success,” Gov. Gianforte said. “As part of that conservation success, the federal government has accepted our petition to delist the grizzly in the NCDE, opening the door to state management of this iconic American species.”
The petition outlined that NCDE grizzly bears are within a distinct population, have far surpassed population recovery goals, and that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has the structure in place to successfully take over full management of this iconic native species.
Beyond seeking to delist grizzly bears in the NCDE, the petition also asks the FWS to designate the NCDE bears as a distinct population segment.
“This is great news for Montana. The science is clear—it’s time to delist the grizzly bear. I’m glad to see Fish and Wildlife Service listen to science, Montanans, and Governor Gianforte to move forward with the process to delist the grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems,” Daines said.
This is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s third attempt in 16 years to end Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the region.
In a memo to Congress sent before the announcement, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote: “The Service finds that petitions from Montana and Wyoming present substantial information indicating the grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) may qualify as their own distinct population segment and may warrant removal from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife.”
“If those findings result in proposing one or more (distinct population segments) for delisting, the Service will consider those in the context of the ongoing recovery for the rest of the population in the larger listed entity,” the agency said.
Upon delisting, state laws and administrative rules, already in place, become the primary regulatory and legal mechanisms guiding management.