The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is recommending no change to the current listed status of the grizzly bear in the lower-48 states, which lists the animals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act following the completion of a five-year status review.
The five-year assessment concluded that while there are robust, recovered populations of grizzly bears, FWS recommends retaining ESA protections across the entire species range. Despite demonstrating clear success in recovery, the announcement leaves the door open for future reintroduction of grizzly bears in the North Cascades ecosystem — despite years of local opposition, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says.
The grizzly bear is listed under the ESA as a single entity in the lower-48 states. As such, the status review and recommendation is made to the listed species as a whole. Although grizzly bear populations in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems are biologically recovered, five-year status reviews must evaluate the status of a species as it is currently listed under the ESA to ensure it is receiving the appropriate level of protection, FWS says.
Grizzly bears were reduced to less than 2% of their former range in the lower-48 States by the time it was listed as threatened under the Act in 1975, and the estimated population in the lower-48 States was 700 to 800 individuals. Grizzly bear populations in the lower-48 States have significantly expanded since the time of listing in 1975 and now occupy approximately 6% of their historical range in the lower-48 States, according to FWS’s species status assessment.
“Progress toward recovering the species has been made through close partnerships with local, state, federal and Tribal agencies since the original listing in 1975. This work among recovery partners is a significant factor in the species not being listed as endangered. However, considerable challenges remain to fully recover the grizzly bear in the lower-48 states, resulting in the recommendation to continue listing it as threatened,” FWS say. “These remaining challenges include limited habitat connectivity, management of access by motorized vehicles, human-caused mortality and uncertainty surrounding future conservation efforts in some ecosystems.”
NCBA Executive Director of Natural Resources and Public Lands Council Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover says the announcement is disappointing to the communities that have done everything right to support the wildly successful recovery of bears in the Northern Rocky Mountain and Greater Yellowstone populations.
“Local officials, rural families and ranchers have continually demonstrated their commitment to protecting wildlife species, including grizzly bears, from extinction — even when this work comes at great personal, financial, and ecological cost," says Glover. “As FWS goes forward with protections for the grizzly bear, the agency must work with communities to achieve lasting success, rather than continually moving the goal post and using the ESA as a long-term management tool."
Cattle producers have long felt the outsized impact of federal decisions made under ESA, NCBA says. Because federal government officials are typically far away from the impacts on the ground, the species management decisions they hand down often lack the flexibility and nuance to be workable in each unique community and ecosystem.
In the 46 years since the grizzly bear was first listed as threatened, the species has been a remarkable success story of recovery. As populations have increased, so have conflicts with other wildlife, livestock, and humans, making local engagement and local solutions even more critical, NCBA notes.