In Billings, Montana, researchers believe that the grizzly bear population has bounced back for Yellow Stone National Park. In fact, they want grizzly bears removed from the endangered species list. This is a great accomplishment, except that some believe it may be too early, and possibly harmful, to the population growth to lift this protection.
Wildlife officials claim that the species is now safe enough for the Endangered Species Act to be lifted. After a recovery act started in 1975, encompassing decades of effort, the panel of wildlife officials voted Wednesday December 11th, unanimously, in favor of the species being removed from federal protection. This decision was made due there being more than 700 grizzly bears in the 1,900 square miles centered on the high country of the Yellowstone region. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supports this opinion then we may be seeing a lift of the protection by mid 2014. Their decision is expected by next month.
What does this mean for the Yellow Stone National Park grizzly bear population?
For starters, minimal hunting will be allowed. Louisa Wilcox, who is a grizzly bear conservation advocate with the Center of Biological Diversity provided the following statement in regard to opening limited hunting on the large carnivores, "The push to drop protection is being driven by states hostile to large carnivores. But these bears have the lowest reproductive rate of any North American mammal. Hunting and other causes of death are certain to reverse the progress that's been made toward recovery."
Several environmental groups say it's much too early to take the bears off of this list due to low reproductive rate, climate change and the loss of whitebark pine trees (a significant food source for grizzlies) to pest activity. In 2007, the protection was threatened to be lifted, and was restored in 2009, due to a federal judge siding with environmentalists over the importance of the whitebark pine trees.
On the other hand, elk populations, a major food source for grizzly bears, are declining significantly. According to Yellowstone's "2013 Natural Resource Vital Signs" by Yellowstone Gate, "The latest Vital Signs report shows that the greater Yellowstone area may have reached its carrying capacity for grizzly bears, while elk numbers in the park's northern range may be stabilizing after a decline". In addition, not all protection is threatened to be lifted. Other conservation methods would still be in place, included overseeing of protection of habitat and biological monitoring to protect against the possibility of any future declines in population.
As with any program to increase animal population, this has had it own problems including a significant number of bears coming in contact with hunters and ranchers. It is generally believed now that the bears are turning to new and alternative food sources such as bison and elk in an attempt to make up for the loss of the whitebark pine nuts.