Fighting to keep protections in place for Yellowstone National Park’s grizzly bears, eight conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), filed notice with the federal government of their intent to sue to restore Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to the bears. The government intends to remove the grizzlies from the list of endangered animals on April 30.
Grizzly bears in the contiguous United States occupy only 2 percent of their historic habitat, and only one percent of their historic population survives today. The bear population at Yellowstone, according to the filed notice, is threatened by habitat loss, high mortality rates, diseases and the government’s failure to use the best available science in making its decisions.
Scientists cite evidence that Yellowstone’s grizzlies also face a troubling future due to global warming. The bears depend on seeds of the whitebark pine tree as a main food source to fatten up before winter hibernation, but recently bark beetles have been decimating this key grizzly food source at alarming rates.
“In denying the truth about shrinking habitat and mounting development threats, the government is risking the future of the grizzly bear — an icon of American wilderness,” said Louisa Willcox, director of the Wild Bears Project with NRDC. “Delisting could reverse 30 years of progress toward recovery of the threatened grizzly bear in and around the nation’s oldest national park.”
Eliminating Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies removes limitations on road-building, logging, and oil and gas development in much of the public lands currently used by the bears. Nearly 40 percent of lands used by grizzlies today in the Yellowstone ecosystem are outside of the designated recovery area, and although the Fish and Wildlife Service counted those bears to conclude that the population meets recovery levels, the agency has not taken steps to ensure they will be able to survive in those areas in the future.
Represented by attorneys at Earthjustice, the groups that filed the notice of intent to sue were Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Humane Society of the United States, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watershed Project, Great Bear Foundation and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.