November 15, 2005

Rebounding grizzly bear may lose protection

By Patricia Wilson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Protected for 30 years, grizzlies
near Yellowstone National Park could become fair game after the
Bush administration on Tuesday took the first step to remove
the bears from the U.S. endangered species list.

A big, bold icon of the American West that mostly eats
plants and animals but occasionally attacks tourists, Ursus
arctos horribilis essentially is a victim of its own success,
rebounding from a low of about 220 in 1975, when it was listed
as threatened in the lower 48 states, to more than 600 now.

"The Greater Yellowstone population of grizzly bears, a
population that was once plummeting toward extinction is now
recovered," Interior Secretary Gale Norton declared at a news
conference. "These bears are now no longer endangered."

The grizzlies' numbers in Yellowstone have been growing at
a rate of between 4 and 7 percent annually and biologists have
seen bears more than 60 miles from what was once thought to be
the outer limits of their range.

If their protection is revoked after a public comment
period likely to stretch the process well into next year, the
states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, which surround
Yellowstone, have plans to allow closely monitored hunting of
bears outside national parks under a strict quota system.


The planned "delisting" has split conservationists. The
nation's largest environmental group, the National Wildlife
Federation supports the move.

"The best independent science and research shows
conclusively that the population of the Yellowstone grizzly
bears have met their recovery goal and are now ready to be
delisted," said Jim Lyon, the foundation's senior vice
president for conservation programs.

"Grizzly recovery is the best kind of proof that those who
say the Endangered Species Act doesn't work at all are wrong,"
he said.

But other powerful groups, including the Natural Resources
Defense Council and the Sierra Club say it is premature to
remove the grizzlies' safety net because their long-term
success is still not assured.

"While we salute and celebrate this progress, we cannot
afford to gamble with the bears' future," said Carl Pope,
Sierra Club executive director. "The Yellowstone grizzly bear
is an irreplaceable part of America's natural heritage, an icon
of all that is wild and free."

Sprawling development, oil and gas drilling, logging and
road building are crowding grizzly bears out of the last
pockets of wilderness, Pope said.

Grizzly bears have roamed western North America for
thousands of years. They are thriving in Alaska, home to an
estimated 30,000, but their numbers dwindled in the lower 48
states early in the last century largely because of hunting and
destruction of their habitat.

Weighing as much as 1,100 pounds (500 kg) with claws about
the length of a human finger, grizzlies have become notorious
for their infrequent, but sometimes violent, confrontations
with people.

"It's my job to invite all of you to come to Wyoming and
Yellowstone Park where we hope you get a glimpse of the
grizzly," said Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi. "We hope you
do not have an encounter with the grizzly."