With full protection of the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecoregion have made great strides back from the brink of extinction only forty years ago. The Sierra Club is fighting hard to maintain good protections for the bears, and to make sure that Yellowstone bears have connected habitat with other grizzly populations so they can stay genetically healthy. In recent years, Yellowstone grizzly bears have lost two of their most important food sources: cutthroat trout from Yellowstone Lake are almost gone due to competition from illegally introduced, non-native lake trout; and whitebark pine trees throughout the region have almost completely died-out due to disease and insect outbreaks. The loss of the whitebark has been especially devastating, because the seeds of this tree have been the best and safest food source for pregnant female and young bears.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposal to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone region from the Endangered Species List on March 3, 2016. The proposal comes despite serious concerns in the scientific community about declining populations, changes in food sources due to climate disruption, and the ability of Yellowstone bears to reproduce with bears outside the region. States have already made it clear that without endangered species protections, immediate steps will be taken to significantly reduce the number of bears in the area, including through hunting-- a move that will reverse grizzly bear recovery in the region. In September 2018, a federal judge restored protections for grizzly bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem under the Endangered Species Act. This decision came after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed those protections, or “delisted” the bears, in July 2017.
In response, Michael Brune, Sierra Club Director, issued a statement:
“We are deeply opposed to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to prematurely remove endangered species protections from grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. Grizzly bears are an essential piece of the American West; these majestic animals have been integral to the Yellowstone region for centuries. Today grizzlies remain a salient emblem of the wild and are a core pillar of the region’s outdoor economy.
“This proposal not only fails to preserve the progress made toward bear recovery, it will reverse it. It falls short of maintaining a healthy bear population and leaves bears straying outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks at the mercy of hostile state management policies. It stacks the deck against the continued presence of bears in the area and the possibility of Yellowstone bears reconnecting with grizzly bears from other areas for long-term recovery.
“People and bears can co-exist -- and as grizzly recovery so far has demonstrated, can do so in a way that is highly beneficial to all. We should not let bears slide back towards extinction because of misplaced political hostility towards these magnificent and beloved beings.”
Here are points to consider:
· If grizzlies are delisted, many bears will be killed by agency personnel and hunters. The bear population will be killed back to minimal numbers, which is why they were protected in the first place.
· Grizzly bear food sources, such as cutthroat trout, white-bark pine, and elk are themselves threatened by invasive species, climate change and diseases.
· More than 60 grizzlies died last year in the Yellowstone region, many killed unnecessarily by people. Killing even more bears through trophy hunting is the ultimate insult to the bears and to wildlife enthusiasts who fought to keep this iconic species from going extinct.
· The Department wants to kill bears to alleviate so-called “conflicts” with cattle and improperly stored human food and garbage. Killing off grizzlies is a poor solution; instead, the Department and other agencies should require better grazing practices and enforce bear-proof food storage and trash disposal.
· Millions of people visit this region to view and celebrate grizzly bears. A live bear is worth far more than a dead bear.
For more information, please contact our Conservation Director, Lloyd Dorsey. For a synopsis of the work that the Wyoming Chapter and National Sierra Club have done to protect grizzly bears since the delisting process started, and to see links to articles regarding grizzly bear delisting, please click here.
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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease affecting mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose and elk. The disease is infectious between and among deer, elk, and moose. Once CWD reaches an area, it remains persistent in soil, plants, and water, and will continue to infect wildlife for years, perhaps decades, into the future.
The above map created by Wyominig Wildlife Advocates and the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, based on information from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and other sources, tracks the progression of the disease over the last 15 years, and indicates that CWD is spreading at an alarming rate. In 2015 and early 2016 alone, the area where CWD has been found in deer or elk expanded approximately 4 million acres - over double the average increase of previous years - and CWD has now been found in 21 of 23 Wyoming counties. In 2015, an infected deer was found 9.3 miles from the the southeast corner of Yellowstone Park, and another infected deer was found 12.2 miles from one of Wyoming's elk feedgrounds - a day's walk for a deer.
As the disease moves north and westward across Wyoming, the infection will approach critically important national parks and wildlife habitat upon which the $3.4 billion dollar Wyoming tourism industry is based. People from all over the world visit Wyoming to see wild, and healthy wildlife. If CWD runs unchecked through our famous wildlife herds and parks, our expanding tourism economy will take a big hit.
Our greatest fear is that CWD will reach any one of Wyoming's 22 elk feedgrounds or the National Elk Refuge where elk are densely packed together for the winter months. Here, CWD could spread rapidly with potentially devastating results. CWD on elk feedgrounds could reach many times the prevalence in wild herds.
To avoid the spread and deadly impact of this disease, the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates supports phasing-out of elk feedgrounds, and conservation of robust predator populations. The State of Wyoming should not allow any artificial feeding of deer or elk under any circumstances. Wildlife should be spread-out and managed for health, not for maximum numbers. Thinning out dense concentrations of elk and deer will help ensure healthy wildlife and our state's economic future.