June 10, 2005

Yellowstone Grizzly Population Increasing

BILLINGS, Mont. -- Federal wildlife officials say they plan to propose ending Endangered Species Act protection for grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could make the proposal as early as next month, said Chris Servheen, grizzly recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He said delisting is being considered because the bear population has been growing steadily and adequate protections are in place for the bears and their habitat.

"We're on the verge of doing what we set out to do," Servheen said. "If I wasn't comfortable, I wouldn't be doing this."

Delisting would not automatically make the bears vulnerable to hunting. Instead, states would protect and control the bear population under their existing federally-approved bear management plans.

Nonetheless, some conservationists say federal officials are moving too fast to end protection. They say the bears' habitat continues to be threatened by oil and gas development and housing in rural areas.

"We shouldn't be taking chances with this icon species," said Janet Barwick, a Wild Bears Project associate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Barwick said her group would fight the delisting proposal.

Grizzlies have been listed as threatened in the region for 30 years. More than 600 are estimated to live in the Yellowstone ecosystem, a vast swath of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Their removal from federal protection could not come soon enough for some who think the population has grown too large. Bucky Hall, a county commissioner in Park County, Wyo., near Yellowstone, said bears are "just pouring out of the park, literally."

"You'd be hard pressed to find anyone on the ground who doesn't think there are enough bears," he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make the final decision on the delisting proposal. It is not expected until sometime next year, Servheen said.


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