Viewpoint: State no longer capable of managing grizzly bear recovery
Grizzly bears are an important part of the Montana landscape, and our state stands proud as one of only four states outside Alaska with grizzlies. As a professional grizzly bear biologist who served as the USFWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for 35 years leading the grizzly bear recovery program, I wrote the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan and the original delisting proposal for the Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly population.
I previously supported the eventual delisting of recovered grizzlies and the move to turn them over to state management, assuming state wildlife professionals would be good stewards and carefully manage grizzly bears using science and facts post-delisting.
However, my opinion and the opinions of many wildlife professionals have changed over the past two years. This shift in perspective happened when Legislatures and governors in Montana and Idaho enacted new laws to try and kill wolves through aggressive, indiscriminate wildlife killing methods that would harm grizzlies. Science-based state wildlife management was replaced by legislation founded on anti-predator misinformation and emotion.
Some people think that delisting grizzlies only requires a certain number of bears, but this is incorrect. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) stipulates that in addition to population targets, adequate mortality and habitat regulatory mechanisms must remain in place post-delisting to ensure that grizzlies remain healthy and recovered.
Certain members of Congress are attempting to circumvent the ESA and force grizzly bear delisting through Congressional action. This attempt disregards the ongoing erosion of grizzly bear regulatory mechanisms by state legislatures, as well as threats to habitat security posed by increased private land development and recreation on public lands as more people move into grizzly habitat.
If state agencies, legislatures, and/or the public think that once delisting takes place, the regulation of grizzly mortality and careful habitat management can be relaxed, this is proof that there are no adequate regulatory mechanisms "in place." Regulatory mechanisms must continue after delisting. They are not temporary tools for legislatures and governors to get a species delisted, only to reduce or eliminate mortality regulation post-delisting.
It’s not far-fetched to predict that if grizzly bears were delisted by Congressional action at this time and turned over to state management, that legislatures and governors would do the same thing to grizzlies that they are currently trying to do to wolves: legislatively reduce grizzly numbers inside recovery zones and eliminate most grizzlies outside recovery zones.
The ESA works because it is based on science and facts. It specifically requires that delisting decisions must be judged solely on the best available scientific data, not on the political interests of members of Congress. I urge you to contact your federal representatives and urge them not to pass legislation circumventing ESA requirements to congressionally delist grizzly bears.
Christopher Servheen is president and board chair of the Montana Wildlife Federation and the retired grizzly bear recovery coordinator for US Fish and Wildlife Service.