Daines Pushes for Delisting of Grizzly Bear Population Five Months Past Review Deadline

DOI Assistant Secretary Thanks MT for Stewardship of Grizzlies, States the Grizzly Bear “Has Recovered”

U.S. Senator Steve Daines today at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing pushed for the delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems and called out the delay in the delisting review, despite the two grizzly populations being well over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery targets. Current Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and President Biden’s nominee for Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Secretary, Shannon Estenoz, agreed that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem bears have recovered. 

Watch Daines’ Remarks HERE.

Daines: So last February, of course, the FWS initiated, not a 17-month status review, it’s called a 12-month status review for a reason. If they were to initiate a 17-month status review, we’d be expecting the result here this month, but it’s a 12-month status. The data is very compelling in terms of where the recovery target is, where the actual populations are… My question is: Would you help us and focus on getting this 12-month review done that should have been completed in February?

Estenoz: Senator, so, thank you, and it’s good to talk grizzlies with you again. First of all, let me acknowledge that I agree with you 100 percent. Not that my agreement matters because the facts are what they are. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population is recovered. The numbers from 2022, 965. Not only that, as I said earlier, the Northern Continental Divide population is also recovered at more than 1,100 bears. And we do have this petition in front of us that’s asking us to delist the GYE as a distinct population segment. It’s that definition that, you know, we’re working through…We’ve tried to do that before. We’ve tried to do that twice before and the courts have rejected it. So we’re working through that, we’re working through our delisting criteria. And in the meantime, I want to say, because I didn’t say it earlier when we were chatting about grizzlies, I just– I need to say for the record how grateful we are to both Montana and Wyoming for the stewardship of grizzly bears. And grizzly bears are doing well in those states because the states are taking good care of grizzly bears. And we know that. And then I also want to say for the record that we want grizzlies to be recovered and delisted. I want to say that without reservation. We want that. I want that for all of our listed species, right? A delisting is a celebration. But as I mentioned, in the ESA, the path that you use to get there also matters. It’s not just the listing decision, it’s the path you take that’s often what courts will attack. So we want to make sure we’ve got the path right.

Daines: Yeah, thank you, and agree. But there’s no reason we can’t get this 12-month study wrapped up. We’re at 17 months… you all the Interior can decide to slow roll this thing to the election, if you’d like. I think that’s a big mistake. I think it violates the integrity of this process if we don’t just commit to the 12-month review. It should have been done in February, it’s now the middle of July.

Estenoz: Yeah, Senator, I can assure you that this process is running based on what the needs of the process are. And I agree with you, you know, driving toward, you know, a decision as soon as possible.

Daines: When’s it going to be done?

Estenoz: Well… I don’t have a date for you but as I mentioned to you when we met a couple of weeks ago, this issue…it’s in the top five for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s leadership, I can tell you. Martha’s been out to Montana and Wyoming now a couple of times in the last month. So, this is a top priority and I want to stay in touch with you also in the days and weeks ahead.

Daines: I’m just a little skeptical that we’re going to see this get done before the election. I just think we need to get it done just for the sake of the bears, for the sake of the process. I hope we can dissolve the politics; we might be able to, and stay focused on the science and get this done. I realize you want to get a solid review done so it protects ourselves when we get litigated in court, but…If we gave you two years, I’m afraid you’d come back here and say we’re at 36 months and still thinking about it.

Estenoz: I appreciate that. I appreciate that Senator, you’re right and we have, you know, it’s a little bit further complicated because we have three petitions before us that are all related, you know, and so I appreciate it and as always, I will stay in contact with your office in the days and weeks to come.

In May, Daines pressed DOI 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.