Why There Is A Very Good Chance That The Grizzly Bear Will Get Delisted This Time

Wildlife experts say don't expect judicial review to block delisting of the grizzly bear this time. They say because the evidence is irrefutable that the grizzly has recovered in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, courts won't be able to block it and delisting is likely to happen.

Mark Heinz

February 12, 20234 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

This time, it’s likely to happen. 

That’s the assessment of the latest effort to remove Wyoming’s grizzly bears from the endangered species list by retired U.S. Department of the Interior official Rob Wallace, who lives in northwest Wyoming. 

“The evidence is irrefutable that the grizzly bear has recovered,” said Wallace, who retired in 2021 as assistant U.S. secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 

The office of Gov. Mark Gordon recently announced a breakthrough in its latest petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the agency Wallace oversaw – to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. That includes Yellowstone National Park and the adjacent wildlands in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The USFWS agreed to open a yearlong status review and comment period, after which the grizzlies could be delisted, according to Gordon’s office. 

Haven’t We Heard This Before?

Wyoming wildlife enthusiasts and hunters may have a flash of Déjà vu thinking they’ve heard all this before – many times before. 

Wallace told Cowboy State Daily that this time, USFWS biologists can clearly demonstrate to federal courts that grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area number at least 1,000. That’s more than enough to prove an established, healthy population. 

That bodes well for the process to “no longer be subject to judicial review,” he said. 

Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman agreed, telling Cowboy State Daily that the ability to clearly prove there are at least 1,000 grizzlies gives this latest delisting effort the edge it needs. 

That’s significant because court orders petitioned by groups opposing delisting have shut down previous efforts to delist grizzlies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 

Most recently, delisting had apparently gone through in 2018. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department had even begun offering grizzly hunting tags for an anticipated fall season, but a federal court order stopped it.

Expanding Their Range

Grizzly bears had all but disappeared from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by the early 1970s. They were placed under endangered species protection in 1975 in hopes that their population could recover. 

They have since continued to grow in both numbers and range. 

Grizzlies ventured into parts of Wyoming far beyond Yellowstone Park, such as the Wind River Mountains. There have long been rumors of grizzlies in the Bighorn Mountains, but there’s yet to be any solid proof of that, biologists have told Cowboy State Daily. 

‘Optics’ Are Important

Moreover, the USFWS is more than ready to delist grizzlies, Wallace said, citing what he learned when he oversaw the agency. 

“The Wildlife Service would like to get grizzly bears delisted,” he said. “They’ve done their job and they’re ready to hand it over to the states.”

So, it will be largely up to the state wildlife agencies to demonstrate they’re ready to manage grizzly bears. Good “optics” in the court of public opinion will come into play. 

“Last year, Montana authorized a wolf hunting season where they were shooting wolves right up on the border of Yellowstone Park,” he said. “That caused a problem with the optics.”

He doesn’t expect Wyoming Game and Fish to make similar mistakes and give the impression that Wyomingites are going to start “gleefully killing” grizzlies right next to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. 

“I have a lot of confidence in Game and Fish,” he said. “I’ve watched those guys closely for years, and they’re as good as it gets in this region.”

Wyoming Has Put In The Money

Game and Fish is optimistic that this time around, delisting will happen, Director Brian Nesvik said in a statement. 

“Grizzly bears, by all measures, have been fully recovered since 2003,” he said. “Their population success story is a phenomenal example of Wyoming’s ability to recover endangered and threatened species. Wyoming sportsmen and women have invested over $50 million toward their recovery.”

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter