A grizzly bear at Yellowstone National Park. Credit: National Park Service/flickr

HELENA – Five Republican U.S. senators from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are sponsoring a bill that would direct the Department of Interior to remove Endangered Species Act protections from Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears. The two-page bill also contains a provision saying the action “shall not be subject to judicial review,” a nod to the many court battles that have ensued over grizzly management in the past decade.

The measure is sponsored by Wyoming senators Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso, Idaho senators Mike Crapo and James Risch, and Montana’s Steve Daines.

“By all scientific measures, the grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are fully recovered,” Lummis said in a press release about the bill. “Reproductive numbers are stable and the population is at or near its max capacity for the habitat. It’s time to remove the grizzlies in this area from the Endangered Species List and allow wildlife scientists in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho to manage the population according to science.”

“Wyoming’s good work and sound management practices should be given an opportunity to demonstrate success. Seeing states successfully implement recovery efforts is just one of the many reasons I am working to improve the Endangered Species Act,” Barrasso said in the release.

Daines echoed that position in his comments, saying, “Wildlife management must be determined by science, not by activist judges. Montana’s state leaders know what’s best for our communities, public safety, the ecosystem, wildlife, and the bear itself.”

Nonprofit environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity expressed concern about the development and what it means for grizzly bear recovery. It countered that science supports maintaining existing protections.  

“It’s disturbing to see Western lawmakers try to blatantly sidestep the science showing that grizzly bears should remain [federally] protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney for the group. “We’re hopeful this bill dies a quick death in Congress.”

The bill’s introduction comes at a time when Montana’s Legislature is also taking up grizzly bear issues. Senate Bill 98, which would allow the killing of a grizzly that is “attacking, killing, or threatening to kill” a person or livestock, passed out of both chambers March 25 largely on Republican support. Senate Bill 337, which would prevent wildlife managers from relocating grizzlies to new recovery zones, passed out of the Senate and is awaiting a hearing before the House.

The introduction of those bills, and others oriented around predator management, ensure that delisting efforts won’t go far, according to Chris Servheen, who was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator from 1981 to 2016. 

“It is not ‘activist judges’ who are preventing future delisting, it is new laws being passed by the state Legislature,” he wrote in an email to MTFP. 

He said SB 98 and 337, along with a measure to legalize the use of neck snares on wolves and a bill to allow the hunting of black bears with hounds, will lead to more grizzly bear conflicts and mortality. Neck snares can capture and kill grizzlies as well as wolves, he said, and hound hunting for black bears can also have a negative impact on grizzlies, which are more apt than black bears to fight dogs.

“Delisting cannot be considered with these new laws in place and the ongoing threat of legislative intervention into sound grizzly management,” Servheen said.

latest stories

Making the case for public pre-K

Another legislative defeat this spring left Montana with the dubious title of a “preschool desert.” Yet advocates of early childhood education continue to argue the case for a state-funded public preschool model using data gleaned from recent pilot programs.

Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.