U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton proposed last week removing federal Endangered Species Act protection from grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone Park, including some sections of Eastern Idaho.
The proposal is no surprise, since the Yellowstone population is stable and has been growing at a steady 4 to 7 percent in recent years. And for nearly as long as we've been expecting this announcement, we've had a formula in mind for the article to announce it. First off, we'd quote Norton about how bears are no longer endangered. Then we'd shoot over her cub at the press conference, Sen. Larry Craig, who would complain that delisting didn't happen 10 years ago. Then we'd bring in a conservationist organization, probably the Natural Resource Defense Council or Earth Justice, who would counter that bears are still threatened by their genetic isolation in Yellowstone (read: still no grizzlies in Idaho's Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness), and note that delisting would open up plenty of previously protected habitat in Wyoming to oil and gas drilling. Then we'd note how Idaho is one of a small handful of states that still allow black bears to be hunted with bait and hounds. We'd leave that point open, without making any specific predictions, because Idaho's grizzly bear management plan for after delisting doesn't go into specifics about what kind of hunting will be allowed.
To wrap the piece up, we'd go back to one of the government officials, perhaps Chris Servheen with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Steve Huffaker from Idaho Fish and Game, who would compliment the success of the Yellowstone program, say bears aren't as big a threat to humans as many fear, and add that allowing hunting is a way to raise conservation funds and "sell" conservation to the public. We'd make fun of Dirk Kempthorne's famous quote about bears being "bloodthirsty carnivores" who will are "likely" to kill or maim Idahoans. And finally, we'd would throw down an in-your-face, booya statistic, like the one that says the rate at which grizzlies kill humans in the greater Yellowstone conservation area out side of the national park is one victim per 53 years, according to the USFWS.
When bears get a little closer to actually being delisted, we'll do that piece. In the meantime, if you'd like to see the last time we talked to all those experts and a handful of others about grizzly delisting, hunting and the general status of predators in Idaho, check out the feature "Predators in the Crosshairs" at www.boiseweekly.com. We've also got links to the Idaho Grizzly Bear Management Plan, and to the USFWS's proposal. To submit public comment on the proposed delisting, send letters to: Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University Hall 309, University of Montana, Missoula, Mont. 59812; or via e-mail to FW6_grizzly_yellowstone@fws.gov. Comments must be received by Feb. 15, 2006.