Grizzly Bears of Yellowstone May Lose Protection Under Endangered Species Act
Yellowstone National Park's Iconic grizzly bears may soon lose their protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after a year-long debate by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). While the organization believes increasing populations signify the bears have recovered, Native American Tribes, who view grizzlies as cultural symbols, beg to differ.
"The grizzly was and remains the physical manifestation of the spirit of the earth, to me, and many others," R. Bear Stands Last, co-founder of Guardians of Our Ancestors' Legacy, said in a statement. "The grizzly was the first two-legged to walk upon this land. The grizzly is a teacher and was, in essence, the first medicine person who taught the curing and healing practices adopted by many peoples."
The FWS began protecting populations of the North American brown bears living in Yellowstone National Park in 1975, when there were only 136 individuals. Today, researchers estimate that populations in and around the park have increased to roughly 750 bears.
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Despite the bear's cultural history, the FWS plans to move forward with delisting the animals and has sent letters to several Native American tribes seeking their input on the matter. However, their attempt did not meet the standards for the tribal consultations, which are required under the Endangered Species Act and other laws. Therefore, the proposal was denied. A copy of the letter can be found online.
Maintaining their protected status under the ESA has been an upward battle for grizzly bears. In 2007, the bears lost protection briefly under the endangered species act. A court ruling soon overturned this decision in 2009, after researchers found that food sources, including whitebark pine nuts and cutthroat trout, were at risk. Essentially, if grizzly bears have to search farther for food, they increase their risk of coming in contact with humans.
If grizzly bears living within Yellowstone are removed from the ESA, this will not effect other populations. The animals will still remain listed as a threatened species under the ESA and appropriate protection will be awarded, according to the FWS.
Grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) are named for the white-tipped hairs on their backs that give them a "grizzly" appearance. The bears can be found living in a variety of habitats ranging from dense forests to subalpine meadows, open plains and the arctic tundra. Since the bears are omnivores, they also have a broad diet and will eat seeds, berries, roots, grasses, fungi, deer, elk, fish, dead animals or insects.
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