Lawsuit filed to halt grizzly delisting
This young female grizzly bear was recently photographed near Fishing
Bridge in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Sublette County habitat at issue
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
June 5, 2007
On Monday, conservation groups filed a lawsuit in Idaho federal district court challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone area's iconic grizzly bear population.
The legal challenge asks the court to restore the threatened status of the Yellowstone grizzly population because of ongoing and threatened habitat destruction, insufficient bear numbers, and inadequate legal protections.
"True grizzly bear recovery means reconnecting our current grizzly bear populations and not killing bears that are reclaiming public lands that could link bear populations," said Jon Marvel of Western Watersheds Project.
While FWS counts grizzlies throughout the Yellowstone area in assessing recovery, its delisting proposal contains no habitat protections for more than 40 percent of currently occupied grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem. That includes the Upper Green River region of Sublette County.
Under the government's plan, nearly 2 million acres of high-quality grizzly bear habitat would be open to increased motorized access, more than 630,000 acres would be open for logging, and more than 850,000 acres would be open to oil and gas development in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
The complaint filed in federal court stated: "In its final Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting decision, FWS adopted this antiquated and biologically inaccurate Primary Conservation Area (termed the official recovery zone in the past) as the location where needed restrictions on development of public Forest Service lands would be imposed for the protection of grizzly bears. More than 40% of the Yellowstone grizzly bears’ currently occupied habitat occurs outside the PCA, and thus receives no protection under the delisting decision."
The lawsuit continued: "To make matters worse, despite the lack of habitat protections for nearly half of Yellowstone grizzly bears’ occupied habitat and evidence of increasing grizzly bear mortalities outside the PCA, FWS decided to count bear numbers and geographic distribution outside the PCA as a basis for delisting. For this reason, Yellowstone grizzly bears are threatened with extinction by current and projected habitat loss and degradation outside the PCA."
Doug Honnold, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups, says that "Yellowstone's grizzlies face a double threat: much of their current habitat is not protected and even in the heart of the ecosystem warming temperatures are decimating the bears' most essential food."
Yellowstone grizzlies rely on high-fat seeds of whitebark pine as a key food source in critical months before hibernation. Warming temperatures have enabled mountain pine beetles to kill high-altitude whitebark pine trees at alarming rates. When whitebark pine seed cone crops fail, Yellowstone grizzly bear mortalities skyrocket and the number of grizzly cubs the following spring plummets.
Earthjustice and Advocates for the West represent the Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Great Bear Foundation, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
Earthjustice - Read more about the lawsuit and background