Daines to Interior Secretary Regarding Delisting Grizzly Population: “We are Well Over the Targets”

Interior Department Ignoring Facts and Data Causes Dangerous Situations for Montanans

 U.S. Senator Steve Daines today at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing pressed President Biden’s Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on the status of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems. Secretary Haaland did not know the recovery targets set by her sub agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the current grizzly populations. Despite bear numbers being well above these recovery targets, Haaland refused to say whether or not the populations had recovered.

Watch Daines’ exchange with Secretary Haaland HERE.

Senator Daines: Secretary Haaland, exactly a year ago, you were before this committee to testify, and I asked you about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 12-month status review on grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

We’re now 15 months into what’s supposed to be a 12-month status review, and there’s no end in sight. Both grizzly populations are well over objective, set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and they continue to grow both in number and range. In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service scientists have twice determined that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem bears have recovered, and they’ve delisted them. But litigation and court rulings prevented those from going into effect. Now, we should be celebrating the fact that the grizzly bear has recovered rather than dragging out the delisting process.

Montanans in grizzly bear country have been forced to adjust their life and to be bear aware at all times as they live with the bears; where the kids play, hiking with bear spray, fencing gardens, fencing playgrounds at schools.  Everything is done with grizzly bears in mind.

My question is, what is the target number of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem needed to meet the Fish and Wildlife Service’s criteria for recovery?

Secretary Haaland: Senator, I would have to get back to you with the numbers that the scientists and that the data shows, but I can tell you that the reviews…

Daines: No, just what is the recovery target?  Not what the current populations are. What is the recovery target? 

Haaland: Senator, I don’t have…

Daines: I have asked you five times since you began the process, first when you began the process for your confirmation. Before you even became public, I asked you and you said, ‘I don’t know.’ I mean if I haven’t telegraphed the test questions to you let me be clear. I’m just asking what is it? You don’t know. 

Haaland: I don’t have the target number.

Daines: That’s another way to say, ‘I don’t know.’ 

Haaland: I would be happy to get back with you…

Daines: Okay, well, you know what, unlike Senator Risch’s question, you don’t have to get back to me. I will tell you what they are, and please write these down. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem recovery target is five hundred bears. Write that down. And next time I ask you the question when you come before will you please have that answer for me?

Haaland: Thank you, sir.

Daines: The second is the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem. That number is 800 bears. So, 500 for Greater Yellowstone, 800 for the Northern Continental Divide. My next question: How many grizzly bears are currently estimated, according to FWS information, to be in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem?

Haaland: Are you asking me to add these two numbers together?  

Daines: No, you wouldn’t do that because those are the targets. So, target is the threshold we need to meet or exceed to get delisted. So, that’s the target. I’m asking you now, how many bears are there?  Let’s start with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

Haaland: Senator, I have a suspicion that you would just tell me that number because you likely know it. If you would like to tell me, I’m happy, I don’t have the number. 

Daines: So here. You can write down: ‘Target: 500 and 800.’ Now let me give you the numbers from FWS. These aren’t numbers that my staff made up. These are the 2022 numbers, the most current data. It’s 965 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It’s 1,138 in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. So, make a chart. Five hundred is the target, actual is 965, that’s Yellowstone, and now the Northern Continental Divide, the target is 800, actual, according to FWS, is 1,138. So, if the populations are greater than the recovery target, would you conclude the grizzly bears have now recovered?

Haaland: Senator, unfortunately, I am not a scientist, so I refrain from…

Daines: You are the Secretary of Interior, with complete respect. You’re in line of succession for the presidency of the United States.

Haaland: I appreciate that, but I…

Daines: You are the Secretary of Interior. So, if the target is 500 and the actual number is 965, nearly twice the target, have we recovered?

Haaland: Senator, I’m happy to ask the scientists when I get back to the Department of the Interior. I am not a scientist. I don’t want to speculate what the science would say to your question.

Daines: The science tells us we’re well over the targets. And here’s another question. When did the numbers for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the population of bears, exceed for the first time the recovery target of 500? What year was that? 

Haaland: Senator, I can’t tell you that. 

Daines: I will tell you that. It was 2002. It was 22 years ago, where the population targets first exceeded the recovery target. Twenty-two years. So, question: Will you commit to finalize at least the now overdue status review on grizzly bears? It was supposed to be a 12-month review. We’re now into 15 months. Will you commit to getting that done here?

Haaland: Senator, I know the reviews for Montana and Wyoming began in February 2023, and I believe that the Fish and Wildlife Service does not have a date for completion, but I will ask them.

Daines: When we started in February, it was a 12-month review.

Haaland: Indeed.  

Daines: I can open my calendar up here and now we’re in month 15. 

Haaland: Thank you.  

Daines: You’re past due.

Haaland: Thank you, Senator.

Daines: Yeah, and not only that, we are way over the targets. I am pleading with you to look at the science, de-list the bears, return the management of this incredible species back to the people of Montana where it belongs.