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Feds to look at ending grizzly bear protections in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did, however, decline Idaho's urging to remove protections for all the nation's bears.

(CN) — Federal protections for grizzly bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems may disappear in the near future, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday, because the animals may no longer qualify as “threatened.”

According to Fish and Wildlife’s unpublished rule, the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming filed petitions calling for delisting. Idaho, wants the grizzly bear delisted in all lower 48 states, while Montana and Wyoming requested delisting the species within the Northern Continental Divide and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystems, the latter of which includes the three states.

“Based on our review, we find that the petitions pertaining to the two ecosystems present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted,” the agency said. “Therefore, with the publication of this document, we announce that we plan to initiate a status review to determine whether the petitioned actions are warranted.”

Moving forward, the agency is requesting new scientific and commercial data regarding grizzly bears within the two ecosystems and based on that review, Fish and Wildlife will issue a 12-month finding that will address whether actions are warranted.

Fish and Wildlife declined Idaho's request to delist grizzly bears in all lower 48 states because its petition “did not present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted.”

But while it might sound like good news that grizzly bear populations are rebounding, some environmentalists are sounding the alarm. According to Andrea Zaccardi, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s carnivore conservation program, removing Endangered Species Act protections could embolden trophy hunters where grizzly bears are not protected.

“It’s disheartening that the federal government may strip protections from these treasured animals to appease trophy hunters and the livestock industry,” Zaccardi said in a statement. “After approving the all-out slaughter of wolves, Montana officials have proven they can’t be trusted to make science-based wildlife decisions. Our nation’s beloved grizzlies deserve better.”

The government’s considerations trail a lawsuit led by WildEarth Guardians in January over the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services’ predator killing program in Montana, which kills or removes native predators in the state, including threatened grizzly bears. The lawsuit also challenges Fish and Wildlife for approving the program’s predator control efforts, which lawyers for the conservation group say remain “largely unregulated in the state.”

“Grizzly bears have come back from the brink since receiving federal protection in 1975, but the recovery of these imperiled bears still has a long way to go,” Zaccardi said. “Rushing the removal of federal safeguards threatens to undo decades of work to recover these bears.”

Fish and Wildlife did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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