By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Wyoming governor Matt Mead has written to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking for the removal of federal protections for grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act, saying the Yellowstone bear situation is “severe and costly” for Wyoming.
Mead said he hoped to accelerate what could be a two-year review and analysis of how changes in Yellowstone bear habitat and food sources might affect the grizzly’s status as a protected species.
“Two years is too long and the cost is too great,” Mead wrote.
Wildlife managers from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department work cooperatively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage bears in Wyoming, but the federal agency has final authority over the animals across the state and the greater Yellowstone area, including in Montana and Idaho.
“Wyoming’s investment in recovery over the past 28 years exceeds $35 million. The average annual cost to Wyoming for grizzly management approaches $2 million,” Mead wrote. “This is paid by Wyoming hunting license revenue, not United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) grants and Wyoming does not have jurisdiction for the bears—the USFWS does.”
Yellowstone bear advocates say grizzlies should remain under federal protection, particularly as whitebark pine trees across the region are threatened by disease and insects. Some environmental groups say the whitebark pine nut is an important but dwindling Yellowstone bear food source, but some state and federal wildlife managers say grizzlies appear to be adapting well by finding other food sources.
“Many knowledgeable people, including grizzly bear scientists within the Department of Interior, believe the species is unquestionably recovered within the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Mead wrote.
The Yellowstone bear count is estimated at about 600 grizzlies, a number that includes grizzly bears inside the park and in adjacent core recovery areas in the greater Yellowstone area in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
Mead cited as a concern four fatal Yellowstone bear incidents over the last two years that occurred in and around the park, as well as bear-related property damage.
Recalling recent success in working with Salazar on cooperative management of Northern Rockies gray wolves and greater sage-grouse, Mead said he was hoping for similar “cooperative work on the grizzly bear.”
Some wildlife advocates have said that grizzlies should remain under federal control until Yellowstone bear populations become more firmly established across the region. Groups have also expressed concern that allowing hunting of grizzly bears managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department or other state agencies could result in serious setbacks for their continuing recovery.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].