The Trump administration is removing Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears, after they spent more than four decades on the threatened list.
The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced the delisting decision Thursday, which immediately drew rebukes from conservationists and Democrats.
Officials said that conservation efforts for the bear, a more than fourfold increase in its population and state policies designed to protect the bears show that the delisting is warranted.
The Yellowstone grizzly bear lives in and around Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of state, tribal, federal and private partners,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who represented Montana in Congress until earlier this year, said in a statement. “As a Montanan, I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
Other segments of the grizzly bear population are not affected by Thursday’s regulation and will continue to be protected as before.
The bear’s population is now around 700, compared with 150 when it was first listed. Its range is 22,500 square miles, more than double the range of the mid-1970s.
Republicans applauded the Trump administration’s decision, saying the bear has long warranted an end to protections.
“Grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), who formally asked for the delisting in 2013. “I appreciate that the FWS is proceeding now with the delisting.”
“It will be great to see the grizzly bear recovered and off the endangered species list,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). “I look forward to continuing to work with the state of Montana as they take the lead in the management of the grizzly.”
But conservationists said the move comes too soon to be able to reliably judge the Yellowstone grizzly’s recovery.
“The ongoing recovery of Yellowstone grizzly bears is an undeniable example of how the ESA can bring a species back from the brink. However, we are concerned over how grizzly bears and their habitat will be managed after delisting,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
“We cannot allow the decades of work and investment to save these bears go down the drain,” she said.
“The Endangered Species Act protections kept Yellowstone’s grizzlies from extinction, but this iconic symbol of America’s Wild West is still at risk,” said Sylvia Fallon, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Until policies move beyond a myopic numbers game of counting bears at a fixed point in time and shift the focus to putting protections in place so bears can thrive over the long term, the future for the Yellowstone grizzly bear is grim,” she said.