Indian country is outraged at the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly under the Endangered Species Act. But the return of the bear to Yellowstone Park has been so successful that the animals now no longer need to be protected, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced on June 21.
Citing “the success of conservation efforts and collaboration among a variety of stakeholders,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that management of the iconic animal would revert to states and tribes. The population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today and meets all the criteria for delisting, Interior said.
The delisting occurs in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which encompasses parts of northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, Interior said. Grizzlies outside of the area are still protected. Not unlike bison, the bears will not be hunted unless and until they leave Yellowstone National Park.
The move drew immediate pushback from Native Americans and advocates who understand the value of the iconic animal.
“Protections are not being removed from this being our people have revered as sacred for time immemorial because science suggests it is the best course,” wrote Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue in an op-ed at Counterpunch.org. “Protections are being removed from the grizzly so that restrictions on the land the grizzly roams will be relaxed and lifted, and the agents of Manifest Destiny in the West today, led by extractive industry and the livestock cartel with big-ag in tow, will be rewarded by their beneficiaries in the Trump Administration and in the statehouses and governors’ mansions of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.”
Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm representing a number of tribes in various cases, said the public was not given enough chance to comment.
“The grizzly is an iconic symbol of wildness, and the Yellowstone area is one of the last places in the lower forty-eight states where we can still see a grizzly in the wild,” said Tim Preso, Earthjustice’s managing attorney for our Northern Rockies regional office, in a statement. “The government’s campaign to remove protections provided by the Endangered Species Act overlooked important conservation issues and denied public comment on key points. We will closely examine this decision, and are prepared to defend the grizzly if necessary.”
Several tribes have been working to keep the grizzly protected within Yellowstone. The Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have all spoken out strongly against the measure.
“If the grizzly is shorn of Endangered Species Act protections it will fall victim to the gun sight wildlife management practices of the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, all of which intend to open extravagant trophy hunting seasons for the wealthy on this being held sacred by a multitude of tribal nations,” the Pawnee said in a statement in 2015.
“It is undeniable that the grizzly bear holds a unique position in the traditional culture and ceremonial life-ways of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, in common with many of the other tribes associated with the Yellowstone region that will be deeply affected and detrimentally impacted if the grizzly is delisted and subsequently trophy hunted,” the tribes said in 2014. “The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ connection to the landscape now known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where the grizzly now survives on less than two percent of its historic range, has existed from time immemorial.”