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State and federal wildlife officials are set to strip grizzly bears of their protection from hunting around Yellowstone national park, with a plan that would remove one of the species’ last populations from the endangered species list.
A leaked letter from Dan Ashe, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to state officials notes there is a “mutually understood process that will allow the Service to proceed with a proposed delisting” for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region.
Historically, grizzly bears ranged from Alaska to Mexico, with a population of around 50,000. However, the bears were shot and poisoned to near-extinction. Today, there are around 1,500 of the animals left in pockets of the Rocky Mountains and North Cascades regions.
“Once again, we see director Ashe cutting deals for political expediency instead of following the science,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians.
“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly effective at recovering imperiled species, and will do so for grizzlies across their range, but only if they retain protections until the science clearly demonstrates recovery.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, which is campaigning for grizzlies to bereintroduced to California, said any delisting would be premature and could reduce the Yellowstone population by more than 100 bears.
“Moreover, killing grizzly bears just outside of arbitrary delisting boundaries drawn on a map would be entirely legal and would not count toward mortality thresholds put in place to protect the population from plummeting,” the group said in a statement.
The proposed plan means that the hunting of the bears could be allowed as soon as January, with the FWS unlikely to officially unveil its verdict on the status of grizzlies until the new year.
A spokeswoman for the FWS said no final decision had been made.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service does believe that grizzly bears have biologically recovered but we are still looking at the delisting proposal,” she said. “We want to see that the recovery would still be viable if protections are removed so that the species never needs Endangered Species Act protection again.”