Victory for Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bears!


Last century the grizzlies were at near extinction at a population of 136 bears in North America. Today, the grizzly bear remains in a few isolated locations in the lower 48 states, including Yellowstone. The estimated Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population increased from 136 in 1975 to a peak of 757 (estimated) in 2014. The 2019 population estimate is 728 bears. Government and ranchers claim that grizzly bear numbers are at capacity. However, there is masses of evidence that opposes this. The Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove the grizzly bear from its list of endangered or threatened species prompted a lawsuit. The delisting was then ovearturned in Federal District Court a year later, so all hunts were cancelled. Last week The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favour of protecting grizzly bears restoring their status under the Endangered Species Act in the wake of hunts planned in Idaho and Wyoming. The decision spares the grizzlies from previous plans for controlled hunts on land that is within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes 34,000 square miles. The judge said that delisting the grizzly bear was the result of political pressure by the states rather than having been based on the best scientific and commercial data, so it was in violation of the endangered species act. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals pointed to the lack of “concrete, enforceable mechanisms” to “ensure long-term genetic health of the Yellowstone grizzly.” The ruling explains that a “commitment to increase population size” is “required to ensure long-term viability.” Grizzly bears play an important role in forest ecosystems as seed dispersers and nutrient providers. They also provide fresh manure as fertilizer. While foraging for tree roots, plant bulbs, or ground squirrels, bears stir up the soil, increasing species richness and nitrogen availability in alpine ecosystems. They increase the amount of available nitrogen through soil disturbance and through salmon carcass dispersal. They also regulate prey populations and help prevent ungulate overgrazing. The removal of grizzly bears and other predatory animals causes populations of the herbivores to increase, which decreases the density of plants. This has a knock-on effect having a major influence on ecosystems. This is a tremendous victory for grizzlies. The sooner we start to see the connections between all living things the more protection these animals will have.

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