The controversy over the federal government’s proposal to remove grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is pushing thousands to speak out.
Hours before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed public comment on the delisting of the bear Tuesday, over 5,000 comments had stacked up.
Some voiced support for delisting. One comment reads, “Please delist the grizzly. The population is stable and in fact increasing. Please do not bow to political and emotionally based rhetoric.”
Others, like Louisa Willcox, think delisting the grizzly now would be a terrible idea. Willcox, founder of the advocacy group Grizzly Times, was cramming to finish her more than 50 page comment before the deadline Tuesday at 10:00 p.m.
“I’m trying to address some of the policy problems and logical inconsistencies and incoherence of the rule. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
She says the federal government’s proposal doesn’t agree with the science.
Her husband, a former grizzly bear researcher, has submitted more than 70 pages. He says Yellowstone’s grizzly population remains at serious risk due to climate change.
“Yellowstone grizzly bears are too vulnerable, too precious, too few, and too isolated to be delisted at this juncture.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the proposal to delist is in response to the successful recovery of one of the nation’s most iconic animals. The grizzly bear population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 to 1,000 today.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Serena Baker says public comments will help the USFWS determine how best to move forward with delisting, or whether to move forward at all.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is really after the best scientific decision we can make. People are more than welcome to share their opinions with us. But we are really looking for distinctive comments. So we are really after something that we can then go out and study.”
Baker says a USFWS grizzly team will review the public comments for anything that may have been overlooked or not considered by the USFWS.
"And then the team will either commission studies or do further research on the Yellowstone grizzly bear population.”
In anticipation of delisting, Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission is preparing grizzly bear hunting rules. They’ll take those up in Helena Thursday.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The interview with USFWS Serena Baker did not appear in the broadcast version of this story because the interview was conducted after the story aired.