Government Says Grizzly Bears Thriving At Yellowstone, No Longer Need Federal Protection

Thursday, March 22nd 2007, 1:56 pm

By: News On 6

HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park no longer need Endangered Species Act protection, the federal government said Thursday.

The area had an estimated 136 to 312 grizzlies when the species was listed as threatened in 1975, but has more than 500 of the bears today, the government said.

``The grizzly is a large predator that requires a great deal of space, and conserving such animals is a challenge in today's world,'' Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said in announcing the decision. ``I believe all Americans should be proud that, as a nation, we had the will and the ability to protect and restore this symbol of the wild.''

The Interior Department said in 2005 that it intended to delist grizzly bears around Yellowstone in the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The species remains protected in other parts of Idaho, Montana and Washington state; Alaska, where the bear was never threatened, is the only other place where the species roams.

Stripping the bears of protection could eventually clear the way for limited hunting of the animals. A measure that would allow such hunting has passed the Montana Senate.

Opponents of the delisting, including more than 250 scientists and researchers who sent the government a letter of protest this week, question whether the bear population is large enough to be genetically diverse and withstand outside pressures such as global warming and food scarcity.

Grizzly bears ``live in a world of shrinking habitat due to warming weather,'' said Doug Honnold, an attorney with the environmental non-profit law firm Earthjustice. ``The Fish and Wildlife Service didn't see global warming coming and has no game plan for the loss of whitebark pines and the related harm to grizzlies.''

But some environmental groups have supported the delisting, calling the grizzly bear a success story, and Wyoming's senators called the decision long overdue.

``At long last,'' said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. ``Decades passed. The bears increased in number. The federal government stood immobile. Today that is finally changing. Grizzly management will shift to the state where it should be.''

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to issue a final rule on the delisting March 29, Enzi said. The rule takes effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

The agency also has recommended delisting gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, but a disagreement with Wyoming's proposed management plan has stalled the process.

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