MISSOULA – Claiming that grizzly bear recovery must be “determined by science, not by activist judges,” Sen. Steve Daines renewed his effort Thursday to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The Republican senator co-sponsored the Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021, which would cancel the bear’s threatened status and protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in the recovery area surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming wrote the bill, which was also co-sponsored by fellow Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and Idaho senators Mike Crapo and James Risch, all Republicans.
The legislation would reinstate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 final rule delisting GYE grizzlies and block the move from any judicial review. Management of the approximately 750 grizzlies would be under state control if those bears step outside the borders of Yellowstone National Park (where they remain under National Park Service management).
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen vacated the rule in 2018, in part because state wildlife managers in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho overruled FWS biologists on how to update a statistical model for counting grizzlies. He also ruled that FWS misused scientific studies about the bears’ genetic connectivity in ways that “ignored the clear concerns expressed by the studies’ authors about long-term viability of an isolated grizzly population.”
The Republicans’ bill mimics a maneuver used by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2011 that reinstated a delisting rule for gray wolves and blocked further judicial review. The wolf delisting had also been blocked in court. Last year, former Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi introduced the same grizzly bill as Lummis, which Daines also co-sponsored. It received a Senate committee hearing but no further action.
“The science is clear: The grizzly bear population has more than recovered in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Area,” Daines said in a news release. “Wildlife management must be determined by science, not by activist judges. Montana-led management is what’s best for our communities, public safety, ecosystems, wildlife, and the grizzly bear itself. It is time to delist the grizzly bear and return management to Montana.”
Grizzly advocates maintain the bears would not be safe under state management, especially if Montana, Wyoming and Idaho go ahead with the grizzly trophy hunting seasons each state considered before the 2017 rule was overturned.
“It’s disturbing to see Western lawmakers try to blatantly sidestep the science showing that grizzly bears should remain federally protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re hopeful this bill dies a quick death in Congress.”
The bill would not affect the ESA protections of roughly 1,000 grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which is entirely in Montana. Nor would it affect the grizzly’s protected status in the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Bitterroot or North Cascades recovery areas. The FWS’ failure to explain how delisting one recovery area, such as the GYE, would affect grizzly recovery in the other areas was another reason the 2017 ruling was vacated.
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