Yellowstone grizzly bears to remain on endangered list

Grizzly bears in Yellowstone are threatened by climate change (photo by Beth Pratt)Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain protected as the result of this week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. 

Two years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species listThe Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group, filed suit to block the removal. 

The non-profit won the case and Judge Molloy placed the grizzly bears back under federal protection in September, stating, "Without the protections of the Endangered Species Act, the Yellowstone grizzly bear distinct population segment will be placed in jeopardy." The government appealed the ruling and sent the case back for review, which was resolved with the announcement this week of the grizzly bear’s protection being upheld.

In Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area, a tiny beetle may decide the fate of the kingly grizzly bear. A beetle that destroys the whitebark pine tree has gained a considerable foothold in Yellowstone because of the effects of climate change. High in nutritional value, whitebark pine nuts provide a valuable food source for the bears. The relationship between the bear’s survival and the whitebark pine was an important part of Judge Molloy’s decision. 

In some parts of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, beetles have destroyed up to 70 percent of the trees in whitebark pine forests. Removing this important component of the grizzly bears’ diet puts considerable stress on the species that could ultimately lead to extinction. Louisa Wilcox, senior wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, has warned, “If these trees go, they could take Yellowstone’s grizzlies…with them. If we want to save not just the whitebark pine, but the animals and plants like the grizzly bear that depend on this tree for food, we need to move to protect and restore them now.”

Even the popular news host Stephen Colbert has raised attention about the plight of Yellowstone’s bears—albeit humorously—with a segment on his regular feature “Threatdown.” Yellowstone’s bears have also attacked Colbert for promoting anti-ursine propaganda and fear mongering.