NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works ahead of a hearing scheduled for September 9, 2020.
NPCA is strongly opposed to S. 614, the Grizzly Bear State Management Act, which removes Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bears, including the grizzlies of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, from protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Congress showed incredible foresight when it passed the Endangered Species Act with bipartisan support in 1973. Since that time, the ESA has been a critically important tool in the restoration of national park species like the California condor, the humpback whale and the Santa Rosa Island fox. The ESA continues to provide an essential safety net to stop and then reverse the decline of scores of other species throughout the country.
When a species is elevated for protection under the ESA, our nation is making a long-term promise to conserve the ecosystem upon which that species depends and provide a program for the conservation of that species. The recovery process is a commitment to management actions that are necessary for the “survival and conservation of the species” with the ultimate goal of restoring the population to a level that will no longer require expanded protections. It takes hard work, collaboration and time to recover a species.
Grizzly bears were driven to the brink of extinction by eradication programs in the mid-19th century. The GYE population had dropped to as few as 136 bears when the species was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1975. Thanks to the resources and protections of the ESA, the hard work of state and federal scientists, and the willingness of communities to adopt policies and practices to live with bears on the landscape the population is on its way towards recovery.
But recovery is not complete. On the eve of what can be another great success story for the ESA, S. 614 undermines the progress that has been made and negates the investment the people of this country and the people of the GYE have made in the recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly population. Congressionally delisting this species would undermine the decades of hard work and resources that have gone into getting grizzly restoration to this point.
The legislation would also circumvent the crucial role of the judicial system in the implementation of one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws. In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed ESA protections from the GYE grizzly bear population. The United States District Court for the District of Montana found that the final rule from USFWS lacked critical analysis and failed to address several threats to the population’s long-term survival. These findings were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this year. The Courts outlined what USFWS must address before this population can be considered for removal from the endangered species list. None of those requirements were unsurmountable and USFWS is now in the process of addressing the Courts’ concerns.
The Trump administration did not even seek to challenge two of the three grounds on which the United States District Court for the District of Montana ruled that the GYE grizzly bear delisting was illegal. S.614 is attempting to muscle through a delisting that even the current administration declined to defend.
The goal of the ESA is to recover a species and ensure that once delisted that recovery can be maintained. This population of bears is on the path to recovery but removing federal protections without an adequate plan in place to ensure the long-term health of this population is short sighted and will prevent the recovery of this icon of the American west.
We urge you to oppose S.614 due to its harmful impact on the recovery of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Courts have laid out a practical path that USFWS must follow to secure delisting and ensure the continued success of this important population.
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Associate Director, Government Affairs