State Senator Ogden Driskill, R- Devils Tower, along with several other state legislatures, is adamant that grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem should not be listed as endangered and nor should management of the species be in the federal government’s hands.
A joint resolution calling for the swift delisting of the bears and the return of the species’ management to the State of Wyoming is working its way through the 2019 legislative session, remaining alive through two readings in the house thus far.
Legislators are also requesting full federal funding for management of the species until delisting occurs.
The resolution is the latest in a series of efforts and counterefforts that arose in the past year after the bears were removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in June 2018.
The bears were delisted as a result of a series of research studies conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, which reportedly indicated the grizzly population in the GYE far exceeded the carrying capacity for the ecosystem.
The delisting of the grizzly was hailed as a major victory for the ESA, which had done what it was designed to do by bringing the grizzly population in the GYE from just more than 100 to nearly 700 in a few decades.
Management of the species, for a time, was turned over to Wyoming and several other states that were located in the grizzly’s natural historic range.
This fall, Wyoming was preparing for the first grizzly hunt in 40 years, but it never happened.
Federal Court Judge Dana Christensen in Montana overturned the decision to delist the bears and placed them under the protection of the ESA in September 2018.
Christensen ruled that federal officials failed to apply the best available science during their research efforts, but his decision faced immediate scrutiny from several high-ranking officials, including former Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi and U.S. Representative Liz Cheney.
Mead called out the ESA, offering Christensen’s decision as evidence of the act failing to act in the manner its drafters intended.
“Congress should modernize the ESA, so we can celebrate successes and focus our efforts on species in need,” Mead had said.
Enzi, too, spoke against Christensen’s decision, saying that as Wyoming’s grizzly population has increased, so too has the danger to livestock, property, and people.
“It is disappointing that the State of Wyoming and the (FWS) have once again seen their well-researched attempts to delist a recovered species struck down by a federal judge,” Enzi concluded.
Cheney, however, took action by introducing the Grizzly Bear State Management Act, directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to delist the GYE grizzly population.
Cheney stated that Christensen’s decision was an abuse of the court system and that it disregarded “important work done by the State of Wyoming to establish an effective grizzly bear management plan.”
The Grizzly Bear State Management Act sought to prevent a similar situation from arising by blocking further judicial review of any decision to delist the GYE grizzlies.
No new updates on the act have yet been announced, with the latest action reported on September 25 when the act was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
The joint resolution expressing support for delisting the grizzly bear still has to pass a third reading in the house, after which the resolution will be moved into the senate. If it sustains three readings in the senate the resolution will go before Governor Mark Gordon to be signed into law.