(CN) – A federal judge in Montana restored protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, citing climate change as a factor threatening whitebark pine seeds, one of the bears’ primary food sources.
The Fish and Wildlife Service “downplays the relationship between whitebark pine and grizzly bear survival,” U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition had challenged a 2007 Fish and Wildlife Service decision to delist the bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which the agency coupled with a move redefining the Greater Yellowstone resident bears as a “distinct population segment.”
Environmentalists said the bears should remain on the threatened species list, because the existing regulatory measures weren’t enough to keep the grizzly population from becoming threatened or endangered in the future.
Judge Molloy ruled that those measures – a conservation strategy, forest plan amendments and state species management plans – “are not adequate regulatory mechanisms when there is no way to enforce them or to ensure that they will occur.”
Ursus arctos horribilis was subject to government eradication efforts that caused it to disappear from about 99 percent of its historic U.S. range by 1950. When the animal was listed as threatened under the Act in 1975, the Yellowstone area had only 136 to 312 individual bears. After an amended government recovery plan, the Yellowstone grizzly population increased to around 500 by 2007.
Though Molloy vacated the delisting decision, he upheld the government’s conclusions about the long-term genetic viability of the Yellowstone population, including the possibility of importing bears from other populations in lieu of providing habitat corridors.
The court also held that the Fish and Wildlife Service provided a reasonable interpretation of grizzly bear range, which excluded habitat with historic food sources and areas where sheep are extensively grazed.
The National Wildlife Federation, Safari Club International and state of Wyoming were among parties that intervened on behalf of the government.