The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pushed back its target date for a formal decision on whether to take Yellowstone-area grizzly bears off of the endangered species list. Last year the agency said it hoped to issue that decision by the end of 2016. Now it’s saying July is more likely.
In March, Fish and Wildlife opened up a public comment period on the proposal to remove protections for the estimated 700 Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. It received more than 650,000 comments.
Michael Thabault, an assistant regional director with Fish and Wildlife says many of them are substantive from either a policy or scientific perspective:
"It's taken some time for our staff and experts to plow through and review and make sure we understand them and make solid responses to those comments in whatever decision document we end up putting out. We are a government agency and we have processes we need to go through, and it's going to take some time to get that though the system."
Center for Biological Diversity Senior Attorney Andrea Santarsiere wants the Fish and Wildlife Service to wisely use its extra time:
"What I hope it means is that Fish and Wildlife Service is seriously considering the 65,000 [sic] comments it's received about this delisting process and that they'll be looking a little closer at those comments to see if there are potential reasons for not delisting so quickly."
The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has said he favors delisting Yellowstone Grizzlies. That could lead to tightly regulated hunting of grizzlies in parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Opponents say delisting and the hunts that would go with it could reverse the grizzly’s four-decade recovery.
One-hundred-sixteen Yellowstone-area grizzlies were killed in the past two years, often by wildlife managers after livestock attacks.