Yellowstone grizzly bears highlight success of Endangered Species Act

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Iconic American animals are coming back from the brink. America’s Endangered Species Act has played a large role, protecting threatened plants and animals. But that protection is not meant to last forever.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy explains.

Estimates place the number of grizzly bears living in and around Yellowstone National Park at between 700 and 1,000. This marks a significant improvement over the 1970’s when there were under 150.

That’s when the endangered Species Act came to their rescue.

“All the goals population-wise have been met,” Gregg Losinski of the Idaho Fish and Game Department said. “All the areas where we had hoped to recover bears, they have been recovered. They are expanding far beyond the recovery area.”

Losinski is a member of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which helped bring back bear populations. In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Yellowstone grizzly bears as threatened, prohibiting the hunting of the animals within their ecosystem.

“There have been some good studies out there showing that species that have recovery plans developed or critical habitat that’s been designated do much better than those that don’t have those in place,” according to Kevin Lynch, an assistant professor at the University of Denver.

In June, the Yellowstone grizzly bear was finally removed off the list.  Three U.S. states will manage the grizzly bear population, and some bears can be hunted if they travel outside the national park.

“Kind of like pruning a tree, so that in the end run we could actually have more bears and better distribution by having them delisted,” Losinski explained.

The scientist went on to say that the U.S. is different from most countries in terms of wildlife management. The focus in America is not simply on harvesting or protecting animals; the listing and delisting process seeks to find a middle ground.

In the U.S., 2,400 plants and animals are currently listed as endangered, meaning they or their habitats need protection. 80 species have been delisted, including the gray wolf, the bald eagle, the whooping crane and the humpback whale.

“I’m definitely a supporter of the listing process,” the University of Denver’s Kevin Lynch said. “I think it’s been remarkably successful in halting the dramatic decline in a number of species we had seen.”

As the professor knows, however, the process isn’t without controversy. Lynch represents groups arguing that the Gunnison Sage Grouse should be listed as endangered, not merely threatened.

And as for the Yellowstone grizzly bears, the delisting is currently being challenged in court.

It’s a debate the Endangered Species Act made possible. Plants and animals on the path to extinction can recover to the point where they lose some of their protections, which supporters say is the goal.

“To have animals listed doesn’t benefit them in the long run,” according to Losinski. “They have to be delisted… Nature is always coming and going and you need to manage it dynamically.”