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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

January 22, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: U.S. pursues grizzly bear protections

U.S. federal officials have agreed to review whether enough is being done to protect grizzly bears in the U.S. The move comes after environmentalists sued the government over its lack of attention to the endangered species and demanded that the government do more to restore the animals to more areas, according to a court settlement Dec. 9. 

A review of states in the continental U.S. would look at potential grizzly bear habitats, people who live in those areas and how far they are from existing populations. 

Chris Servheen, former coordinator of the government’s grizzly bear recovery program, said while the review would look at potential habitats for the bears, it might also distract from efforts underway to protect them.

“It just doesn’t make sense to look for new places for bears when we don’t have enough money to deal with the existing areas we have,” he said. 

Since 1975, grizzly bears have been technically protected as an endangered species throughout the U.S., excluding Alaska. These protections have allowed a slow recovery of the species in a handful of areas. Today, an estimated 1,900 grizzly bears live in portions of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. 

This is significantly less than the species count up until the early 20th century, when tens of thousands of grizzly bears populated the western parts of the nation. However, due to hunting, trapping and habitat loss, many were wiped out. 

In a June lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity pushed for officials to consider restoring grizzlies to California, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. As a result of the lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a grizzly status review that could lay the groundwork for new grizzly restoration plans in the west, according to The Associated Press

However, the agreement has not been fully resolved, as the lawsuit also sought an update to the government’s recovery plan for grizzlies. 

Throughout the last several years, there has been a significant increase in predator restoration efforts among wildlife activists. Last year, a group of environmentalists sued to block grizzly hunts in Wyoming and Idaho. The hunts were scheduled after the Fish and Wildlife Service determined approximately 700 grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park no longer needed protection. As a result, the federal judge restored protections. 

Right now, Colorado activists are also working to get an initiative on the 2020 ballot that will reintroduce gray wolves to the west side of the Continental Divide. Many ranchers and hunters are campaigning against the proposal. 

The federal grizzly bear protection review, ordered by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen, will be completed March 31, 2021.