In March, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed removing grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem from the federal Endangered Species List. Only 136 grizzlies lived in and around Yellowstone back in 1975 when grizzlies in the lower 48 states were designated as “threatened.” Since then, the number has increased to somewhere between 674 and 839 and the bears have expanded their range by 50%.
While it’s good news that grizzlies have rebounded, compelling reasons for not delisting them still exist. Pine nuts are one of the bears’ major food sources but due to beetle infestations exacerbated by climate change, whitebark pine forests are dying. The other big problem for bears is people.
Without even waiting for delisting to occur, the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have already fast-tracked plans for grizzly bear trophy hunting. The Center for Biological Diversity says that trophy hunting reduces genetic viability of a species by targeting the biggest, strongest males, and that recreational trophy hunting has been shown to increase poaching by normalizing killing.
In any case, it may be that in a crowded world, large carnivores will always need Endangered Species protection because state management is so hostile to predators. For instance, in 2012 gray wolves were delisted, but due to state mismanagement and excessive hunting they were back on the Endangered Species list by 2014.
The last known grizzly bear in Utah, nicknamed “Old Ephraim,” was killed in Logan Canyon in 1923 by Frank Clark who later told a Deseret News reporter, “Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over I wouldn’t kill him.”