After years of debate, process, and scientific inquiry, the Yellowstone grizzly bear will soon be delisted. At the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, we have decided not to oppose the delisting rule in court, but to use and enforce its requirements to ensure a healthy grizzly population. While there may be disagreements over moving the bear off the threatened species list, we can all agree that grizzlies have made a remarkable comeback and represent a monumental conservation success. Going forward, GYC will be working hard to ensure this legacy continues and bears thrive in Greater Yellowstone for years to come.
This is our vision for grizzly bears over the next 40 years and beyond.
First, we will hold the states’ and other agencies’ feet to the fire in living up to their commitments. This means standing firm against any efforts to reduce the grizzly bear population. Bringing them back from the brink of extinction only to drive them back toward it is unacceptable. Not just for GYC, but for the millions of Americans who love Yellowstone and its wildlife. The states have committed to maintaining a healthy population of grizzlies at the numbers they’re at today. If they don’t live up to that commitment, we’ll use every option available to block their actions.
Montana has committed to end the isolation of Greater Yellowstone’s grizzlies by allowing them to reconnect with the grizzlies that live in northwestern Montana. This is a big deal. GYC has been advocating for a connected population for years and now Montana has the chance to live up to its word by working with our organization and others to reconnect Yellowstone’s bears for the first time in a century.
Grizzly bears need vast areas of secure, undeveloped habitat to thrive. The Forest Service, the agency responsible for managing the majority of grizzly bear habitat, has committed to protecting lands grizzlies rely on by agreeing to protect a 5,383 square-mile area outside the parks from new roads, development, or livestock grazing. We’ll be watchdogging the agency’s actions and taking all necessary steps to make sure they don’t stray from this important commitment.
Next, as we have for years, GYC will continue to oppose grizzly bear hunting. During the delisting process, we repeatedly called for at least a five-year moratorium on hunting. But we also know what’s killing bears is run-ins with hunters, cows, hikers, and campers. That’s why we’re working on the ground every day to keep bears alive. We’ve raised almost $1 million to bear-proof every Forest Service campground in Greater Yellowstone – to keep humans safe and bears wild. We just wrapped up a fencing project in Idaho with partners and a local landowner that will reduce the chances of bears getting into trouble with livestock. And we’re protecting lands bears need to thrive from risky gold mines north of Yellowstone. All of these projects mean working on the ground with local partners toward common goals.
Finally, we will stand firm for the Endangered Species Act, the law that saved Yellowstone grizzly bears from extinction. This law is 99 percent effective. Unfortunately, it’s under attack right now in Congress. These actions don’t mesh with the values Americans hold dear across the political spectrum – 90 percent of Americans support the Endangered Species Act. We’ll do whatever it takes to keep politicians from meddling with this popular and effective law.
That’s what we’d love to see going forward. Grizzly bears are an essential part of Greater Yellowstone and we’ll be fighting for their future every step of the way. By watch-dogging decision makers, reconnecting them with their cousins to the north, and keeping more bears alive in more places, we can all help clear a path for the great bear’s success for the next 40 years and beyond.
Caroline Byrd is the executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.