Trump removes protections for Yellowstone grizzly bear

Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd visited Yellowstone past year, and spoke to the park's bear biologist, Kerry Gunther, about how the grizzly population has changed over the decades and how to stay safe.

The decision by President Donald Trump's administration to remove the Yellowstone grizzly bear from the list of endangered species has been called "a gift to trophy hunting" by conservation groups.

The Yellowstone area grizzly bear has been listed as "Threatened under the Endangered Species act since 1975, when there were only 136 grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area".

Matt Hogan, the deputy regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service's eight-state Mountain-Prairie Region, said he is confident that the science behind the decision and the management plans the states will follow will withstand any lawsuit.

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Conservation and wildlife advocates have opposed removing any grizzly from the endangered species list, and some are promising to sue the government to keep the Yellowstone bear's protections intact.

The decision would not affect the other major population of grizzlies in the lower 48 states, like the 1,000 that live in and around Glacier National Park in Montana. Instead, grizzly bears outside the parks will become subject to state management, which may include trophy hunting seasons and higher rates of lethal removal in response to livestock conflicts.

Thursday's announcement from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke comes after decades of study and formalizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement a year ago to move the grizzlies from protection through the Endangered Species Act.

The rule, which is likely to face a court challenge from wildlife organizations, would permit states to hold limited hunting outside the park as long as the species' numbers remain stable. "Until natural connectivity with the northern grizzly population occurs, scientific studies make clear that a minimum population of closer to 2,000 bears would be needed to maintain long-term genetic diversity". Today, that number has grown to 700 bears.

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One conservationist told NPR it can take grizzlies decades to recover from population decline because the bears are some of the slowest reproducing mammals on the planet. The Obama administration originally proposed lifting protections from the Yellowstone bears in March 2016.

He hailed the move as marking "one of America's great conservation successes". Grizzlies must eventually connect across the six recovery zones, including with the sub-populations of the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yak ecosystems and bears in the North Cascades ecosystem.

He explained, "Even though the grizzly bear may not be warranted as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, there are still threats out there".

"This has been a priority of the association for years and is a critical first step for the State of Montana to regain management of the bear population" the Montana Stockgrowers Association said.

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Cooley said the Yellowstone ecosystem is approximately three times larger than Yellowstone National Park itself.

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