Conservation Group Calls For Expanded Grizzly Bear Recovery Efforts
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
A conservation group is urging federal officials in the US to expand efforts to help grizzly bear recovery efforts, including returning the creature to western states such as Arizona and California, or face legal action for failing to comply with portions of the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, announced on Wednesday that it had filed documents identifying more than 100,000 square miles of potential habitats for the grizzlies, including the Gila/Mogollon complex, the Uinta Mountains in Utah, the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Grand Canyon.
That petition, which was filed to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, said that the two agencies had a “mandatory duty to develop a recovery plan for the grizzly bear” by “revising and updating” recovery plans dating back to 1993 for populations identified at the time when the species was first listed, and by pinpointing additional regions where recovery strategies have to be implemented.
“Grizzly bears are one of the true icons of the American West, yet today they live in a paltry 4 percent of the lands where they used to roam,” explained Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director at the Center. “We shouldn’t be closing the book on grizzly recovery but beginning a new chapter – one where these amazing animals live wherever there’s good habitat for them across the West.”
According to Reuters reporter Laura Zuckerman, the bears were added to the federal endangered and threatened species list in 1975 after being brought to “the edge of extinction” by hunters and trappers. Approximately 1,600 grizzlies currently call Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas home, but the Center’s petition would seek to up the number of the creatures to 6,000 while also expanding their territory throughout several western states.
The group filed their petition under an administrative portion of the Endangered Species Act, claiming that the creature’s current home represents just a fraction of the bears’ historic habitat, and just 22 percent of its potential range in the continental US. Reuters said that federal officials had yet to comment on the request, but that under federal regulations, Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service could accept or reject the petition.
“The push by the Arizona-based group comes as government managers of grizzlies in and around Yellowstone claim that the population of more than 600 bears is sufficiently recovered and should be stripped of federal safeguards,” Zuckerman said. She added that the Center believes that the agencies are “obligated… to develop a recovery plan that ensures the restoration of grizzlies in ecosystems such as the Southern Rockies.”
Thus far, the conservation group said that recovery strategies have only been developed for six bear populations: those living in the Greater Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide centered on Glacier National Park, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk Mountains, North Cascades and Selway-Bitterroo regions. Furthermore, of those populations, only the first four have received on-the-ground recovery assistance, according to the Center.
“The good news is that with the safety net of the Endangered Species Act, the health of Yellowstone and Glacier area grizzly bears has improved – but it’s way too early to declare victory and walk away,” Greenwald said. “All remaining populations are isolated, especially Yellowstone.”
“The science is clear that, if we’re serious about recovering grizzly bears, we need more populations around the West, and more connections between them, so they don’t fall prey to inbreeding and so they have a chance of adapting to a warming world,” he added. “If we want these incredible bears around for centuries to come, we’ve still got a lot of work left to do.”