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Grizzly Opinion: Bears to Keep Endangered Species Protection

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 28, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that grizzly bears still need endangered species protection from the federal government until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can demonstrate a rational connection between its research on the bear population and a proposal to lift the protection.

Grizzly bears may seem tough, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has classified them as "threatened" since 1975. For much of the 20th century, Yellowstone National Park's grizzly population fed at the trough of open-pit garbage dumps. The dumps were a fast-food stop for bears, and a convenient bear-viewing opportunity for tourists.

In the early '70s, people grew concerned about encouraging the bears' attraction to human foods - no doubt due to the popularity of the picnic-basket stealing Yogi Bear - and the dumps were closed. Grizzly mortality rates skyrocketed, so the grizzlies were added to the "threatened" list.

Grizzly protection strategies were so successful that the Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to remove grizzly bears from the threatened list in 2007. Conservationists challenged the decision, arguing that the Service discounted the impact of climate change on Yellowstone grizzlies when assessing the health of the bear population, reports Reuters. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The Ninth Circuit found that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to articulate a rational connection between the data in the record, and its determination that whitebark pine declines were not a threat to the Yellowstone grizzly, given the lack of data indicating grizzly population stability in the face of such declines, and the substantial data indicating a direct correlation between whitebark pine seed availability and grizzly survival and reproduction.

While dwindling pine seed could pose a threat to grizzly bears, miners do not. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that Revett Silver Company can move forward with plans to build and operate a copper and silver mine on Forest Service land in Montana because the project will not pose a harm to grizzly and bull trout populations.

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