The governor of Wyoming wants to take grizzlies off the federal endangered species list, which could allow for future hunting of the bears that have caused at least four deaths near Yellowstone National Park in the last two years, according to Fox News.
Gov. Matt Mead wrote a letter on May 24 to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting an end to the federal protection of grizzly bears that has been enforced since the 1975 passage of the Endangered Species Act, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the bears were a threatened species.
The letter states that the bears have “unquestionably recovered within the Yellowstone ecosystem,” Fox reports. An official close to Mead said hunting may be needed to control the current grizzly bear population, which has reached an estimated 600 in the area.
“At some point in time, we would envision hunting grizzlies,” Steve Farrell, a policy adviser to Mead, told Fox. “It’s an important tool for population management, just like it is for whitetail deer and elk.”
Farrell insisted, however, that the request to remove the bears from the endangered species list is not motivated by “this need to hunt them.”
The bears were removed from the list in 2007 but were put back on in 2009 after a conservation group sued.
Some wildlife groups say the bears should remain under protection, at least until scientists can study the effects on the population of the bears’ diminishing main food source — seeds from the whitebark pine tree. The trees are dying out from a widespread infection.
“Scientists say they need more time to understand why grizzly bear populations in Greater Yellowstone are leveling off, and to further study the implications of the whitebark pine’s demise,” Jeff Welsch, a spokesman for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, told Fox.
Other wildlife advocates say the bears have reached a stable population.
“The grizzly bear story in the Yellowstone is a great, great success story,” Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation said. “The population goals that we set through the federal recovery plan have been met and exceeded.”
Grizzlies are common in Canada and Alaska and can also be spotted in Idaho, Washington, Montana and Wyoming. Adult males weigh up to 1,500 pounds and can stand 10 feet tall. For 24 years, there were no reported deaths from grizzlies in Yellowstone, but there were four in the last two years.
The population comeback of the grizzlies is partially responsible for those deaths, according to Chris Servheen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services grizzly bear recovery coordinator.
“We have more bears in more places, so the encounter frequency is going up, the probability of running into a bear is going up,” he told Outside Online.
Since the state pays for the management of the bears, they would like to have control over them, Mead’s communication director, Renny MacKay, told Fox. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services currently manage the bears.
“The concern more is that we pay this, but don’t have the jurisdiction,” MacKay said. “If we pay, we want to decide how the money is spent.”