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Judge renews protected status for Yellowstone's grizzly bears

September 22, 2009 |  7:44 am

Grizzly

According to U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, the grizzly bear's Yellowstone population is not quite as recovered as Bush administration officials thought when they stripped the animals of their Endangered Species Act protections in 2007.  In a ruling delivered by Judge Molloy today, the protected status of the bears -- about 600 of them living within the confines of the park itself and in the surrounding area, including areas in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming -- was renewed, meaning that they will once again be considered a threatened population.

Among the reasons Molloy gave for reinstating the grizzlies' protected status was, interestingly, climate change.  Grizzlies are omnivorous, and the Yellowstone population relies heavily on nuts from a tree called the whitebark pine for food.  But, in large part due to climate change that has allowed pine-killing beetles to thrive, the number of whitebark pines in the area has declined sharply in recent years, according to the Associated Press.  Forest fires have also put a damper on the growth of the whitebark pines.  Another issue noted by Molloy in his ruling, our colleagues at the Greenspace blog report, was a system of monitoring the bears' numbers with which he found fault:

The judge said the monitoring program designed to maintain the bear population at more than 500 bears has no enforcement mechanism in case numbers decline.

"Even if the monitoring were enforceable, the monitoring itself does nothing to protect the grizzly bear population," the judge wrote. "Instead, there is only a promise of future, unenforceable actions. Promises of future, speculative action are not existing regulatory mechanisms," he said.

Environmental advocates, naturally, have expressed their approval of the ruling. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment, offering a statement to the Associated Press through a spokesman. "We're going to take some time with this rule because it's so significant," Matt Kales told the AP. "This is obviously a pretty big policy matter for us. Our first and foremost concern remains with the status of the bear."

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A grizzly forages for food in a meadow near Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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