Grizzly bears that inhabit the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park may now want to tread carefully if they ever leave the reserve's boundaries. The apex predators have just lost their endangered species status, which means it will now be legal to hunt the animals as trophies outside of the park.
The decision was announced by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, who say their numbers have recovered to such an extent that they are migrating out of the immediate vicinity of the reserve, and so should now be controlled. It means that while hunting of the bears within Yellowstone National Park remains illegal, there will be limited bear hunts permitted in the surrounding states.
The move comes after 15 months of research and analysis that started under Obama to assess not only the population status of the bears within the park, but also the public opinion of those living in the surrounding states and regions. When the bears were first added to the Endangered Species Act in 1975, there were only around 136 bears living within the park. Since then, it has been illegal to kill any grizzlies in the lower 48 states.
Due to the protection the act provided, however, their numbers within Yellowstone have boomed. It is now estimated that there are some 700 grizzly bears roaming the forests and mountains, and that their numbers have become so great, they have started to expand outside of the park.
“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region,” said US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a statment. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners.”
The news has not been welcomed by many, though. The delisting will almost certainly be challenged in court, with environmentalists arguing that the bears may be doing well for now, but that they still face many major threats, particularly from humans and climate change. A treaty against the move has been signed by no less than 125 Native American tribes, who consider the bears sacred.
One of the major fears is that as climate change alters the environment, it will bring the bears into increased conflict with humans. On its own, this is already difficult to deal with, but with trophy hunting thrown into the mix, it could undo all the work achieved in increasing their numbers to date.