A committee of state and federal agencies recommended this week that protection of the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone National Park area be lifted as soon as possible. The recommendation provoked an immediate outraged response from conservation scientists, who find fault with the committee's reasoning and question its motives. "Delisting would leave grizzly bears on permanent life support, and push the bear back to the brink of extinction," says Louisa Willcox, of the Center for Biological Diversity.
There are about 1,500 grizzlies in the lower 48 states, including about 600 in the Yellowstone area, down from, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 50,000 in the early 1800s. The bear was once so common in California that it was chosen to grace the California state flag; the last California grizzly was shot in 1922. The grizzly was put on the endangered species list in 1975, and in Yellowstone, it was reintroduced and protected from hunting.
The government set a recovery goal of 500 Yellowstone bears, and met it in 2007. Immediately, the FWS attempted to remove the bear's endangered species protection, but was defeated by conservationists. The argument in 2007 largely rested on the fact that Yellowstone grizzlies rely on the nuts of the white pine tree for protein (grizzlies have very different diets depending on where they live; Yellowstone bears primarily eat nuts for protein, British Columbia bears eat salmon, Alaskan bears eat moose and elk). Due to climate change, the white pine is disappearing rapidly from Yellowstone, along with its nuts, making it harder for the bears to source adequate protein.