It’s still not official, but Yellowstone’s grizzly population is on its way to being federally delisted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a proposal Thursday to no longer list the population as “threatened” — its second attempt at doing so.

The March 3 proposal is the culmination of more than 40 years of grizzly conservation efforts.  In 1975, 136 bears were reintroduced to Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana; only 1,000 grizzlies total were thought to exist in the wild. Since then, the initial population of 136 Yellowstone bears has climbed to more than 700.

Management efforts, driven by the 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, have allowed the bears to repopulate Yellowstone National Park to a degree once thought impossible.

According to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, the bears now occupy more than 22,500 square miles of prime Yellowstone range. In fact, the bears are so densely populated they have reached the area’s carrying capacity — hence the delisting.

Management will not end if the bears are delisted. Hue Wire reported that the delisting would return management of the bears to the states in which they reside. As part of that return to state management, grizzlies could be hunted via regularly scheduled hunting seasons like other game animals.

Whether that will ever happen remains to be seen. The USFWS tried to delist bears once before in 2007. The bears were briefly delisted before anti-hunting groups and the like took the federal government to court. The bears were later re-listed, with management remaining at the federal level.

Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT) congratulated the new USFWS proposal. Canada Journal quoted him as saying:

“I want to congratulate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bears. At last some local say. Montana has a better idea of what to do with the grizzly bears and the population. It’s always best when you have management by the state rather than the federal government. So thank you Fish and Wildlife Service for doing the right thing.”

“The recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe said in a press release. “Our proposal today underscores and celebrates more than 30 years of collaboration with our trusted federal, state and tribal partners to address the unique habitat challenges of grizzlies. The final post-delisting management plans by these partners will ensure healthy grizzly populations persist across the Yellowstone ecosystem long into the future.”

The proposed changes will be listed in the Federal Register soon. After that, the public has 60 days to comment on the changes. Those interested in speaking out about the grizzly delistings, one way or the other, can do so electronically by clicking here.


Cover image via iStock