Panel Recommends Removing Grizzly Bear Protections

An oversight panel recommended last week that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lift Endangered Species Act protections from grizzly bear populations in the northern Rocky Mountains, according to the Washington Post.

If the agency agrees, it could announce its decision in as little as a month and begin the process for removing the animal's threatened-species status, and open the door to possible sport-hunting opportunities in the future.

Nearly eradicated from its original range, grizzly numbers have rebounded since 1975 when federal protection began. Today, biologists estimate grizzly numbers in the Continental Divide ecosystem to be around 1,000 animals, though in recent years, the animals seem to be moving to developed areas, creating conflicts with hunters and ranchers.

The recommendation from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, a panel of state, local, tribal, and federal officials, specifically addressed concerns about the animal's available food sources--a contentious issue among environmentalists trying to keep the bears under federal protection.

"The fat levels in bears are the same as they ever were," said Servheen, the grizzly-bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The bears are adapting, as we said in the initial rule, because they are omnivorous."