Grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park should be removed from the endangered species list after 30 years of federal protection, the U.S. Department of Interior said Tuesday. The number of grizzlies in the Yellowstone area has grown at a rate of 4 to 7 percent per year since the bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said. Federal wildlife officials estimate that more than 600 grizzly bears now live in the region, which includes parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Stripping the bears of protection could eventually clear the way for limited hunting of the massive bears. These three states would assume management responsibilities from federal wildlife officials and have greater flexibility in dealing with the animals. The department's proposed delisting could go into effect as early as 2006, but litigation could delay any ultimate effort to remove federal protections.
Environmental groups are split on the move. The National Wildlife Federation supports delisting, saying it highlights the success of the endangered species law. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and other groups say that too many threats still exist for the bears.
Three senators who attended the Interior news conference Tuesday used the delisting as an opportunity to call for reform of the endangered species law. The House passed a bill in September that would lessen the government's role in protecting plant and animal habitat.
Sens. Mike Enzi and Craig Thomas, both Republicans, also called for reform of the law. Less than 20 species have been delisted since the law was signed by President Richard Nixon was signed in 1973.
Norton said grizzly bear recovery has been a success story because of cooperation between state and federal governments, along with biologists and conservation groups. She said the administration would like to see the law more focused on recovery efforts than penalizing landowners who find species on their land.
Four other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states will continue to be protected as threatened species under the act. These bears live in the same three states and Washington. A.M.