Skip to comments.Report: Endangered Species Act Critical to Grizzly Bear Populations
Posted on 07/24/2002 9:56:37 AM PDT by cogitator
Grizzly Team Shows Value of Species Protection Law
WASHINGTON, DC, July 23, 2002 (ENS) - Protection under federal and state law is critical to conserving grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, a new report concludes. The study could offer support for legislation aimed at strengthening the federal Endangered Species Act, and counter arguments for weakening protections for grizzly bears.
The debate over the effectiveness of the 1973 Endangered Species Act ranges from arguments to weaken its protections to making it stronger, but there has been little good evidence for either side. Now new research shows that legal protections are critical to conserving grizzly bears in the contiguous United States.
"This is direct evidence for the dramatic beneficial effect of conservation policies enacted through legislation such as the U.S. Endangered Species Act," write David Mattson of the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Colorado Plateau Field Station and Troy Merrill of LTB Consulting, in the August issue of the journal "Conservation Biology."
The grizzly bear is listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act. There are about 1,100 grizzly bears in these states, in five separate populations in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.
To help find the best way to protect grizzly bears, Mattson and Merrill determined factors that correlated with the species' survival since 1850. The researchers considered a variety of factors including the availability of foods such as salmon, bison and whitebark pine trees, which have large seeds that the bears eat. Other factors examined by the team included habitat type and size, the presence of livestock and agriculture, and the density of people in grizzly habitat.
Mattson and Merrill found three factors that strongly correlate with the survival of grizzly bears today: the presence of whitebark pines, large ranges and low human density. One thing these factors have in common is that they help keep grizzlies away from people, who have been the primary cause of the species' decline.
For instance, the bears' survival in areas with whitebark pines may be due to the fact these trees only grow at high elevations and so are far away from most places where people live.
Grizzly bear populations have also been more likely to survive in contiguous ranges that are greater than 7,700 square miles. In 1970, the only populations with more than 200 grizzlies were in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide recovery areas designated by the Department of Interior, both of which exceed 7,700 square miles.
While the Bitterroot and North Cascades recovery areas also approach this size, they have few if any grizzly bears. The other two recovery areas are smaller than 2,700 square miles.
Grizzly bears have been more likely to survive in areas with few people. Before 1970, grizzly populations were far more likely to survive where the density of people was less than 1.3 per square mile. Today, however, grizzlies are persisting at much higher human densities: about fivepeople per square mile for Yellowstone and eight people per square mile in the Northern Continental Divide recovery area.
Mattson and Merrill attribute the grizzly bears' current survival at higher human densities to legal protections such as the Endangered Species Act.
"Our results show that changes in human attitudes and behavior have been critical to the survival of grizzly bears from 1970 to the present," wrote the researchers.
Without federal protection, grizzlies in the lower 48 states could be looking at a dim future.
Most of the federally designated grizzly recovery areas are smaller or have higher human densities than optimum.
"These results argue for continued stringent protection of grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk and North Cascade ranges and high priority restoration of bears in the Bitterroot Range," the researchers said.
In June 2001, in one of her first official acts, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would withdraw a federal plan to reintroduce grizzly bears into the Bitterroot ecosystem of Idaho and Montana. The agency had announced plans to reintroduce the bears in November 2000, under the Clinton administration.
Besides arguing that the Interior Department move ahead with the Bitterroot reintroduction, the study by Mattson and Merrill also undermines suggestions that some grizzly populations be removed by the endangered species list.
The Yellowstone grizzly population is doing best and there have been proposals to remove its protections under the Act. However, grizzlies there depend on whitebark pines, which are threatened by a non-native disease called white pine blister rust. The disease has largely eradicated the trees north and west of the Yellowstone ecosystem.
"Such vulnerability ... argues for the inadvisability of removing any legal protections for this [grizzly bear] population," wrote Mattson and Merrill.
The report also supports arguments to maintain the current regulatory powers of the Endangered Species Act, or even to strengthen the law. Congress is now considering two bills, which would have opposite impacts on the Act.
In April, Representatives George Miller of California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey - both Democrats - introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act (ESRA - HR 4579), which would reauthorize and strengthen the Endangered Species Act.
Environmental groups say the measure would focus on efforts to recover healthy populations of threatened and endangered species so they can be removed from federal listing. It would provide new incentives for private landowners to protect species, and introduce better science into the listing, management and delisting processes, as recommended in a mid-1990s report by the National Academy of Sciences.
"By implementing recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences designed to improve the scientific basis for important endangered species decisions, ESRA makes sure that we use the best science available," said Susan Holmes, policy expert for Earthjustice. "It requires that independent scientists peer review large scale habitat conservation plans; and means that biologists, not politicians are telling us what it will take to recover an imperiled species."
The bill is currently stalled in House Resources Committee, which has requested an executive comment on the measure from the Interior Department, and in the House Ways and Means Committee.
In contrast, a bill to weaken the Endangered Species Act was passed by the House Resources Committee on July 10 with a 22-18 vote, and sent to the full House. The Sound Science for Endangered Species Act Planning Act of 2002 (HR 4840) was introduced in May by three Republican Representatives: Jim Hansen of Utah, Richard Pombo of California, and Greg Walden of Oregon.
The bill would legislate what types of science could be used to make decisions under the Act, removing language requiring the use of "best-available science."
"Passage of this bill is an attempt to ensure that the agencies charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act base their decisions on sound, peer reviewed science," Pombo stated after the committee vote. "The Act is failing to protect and recover species, and is a major source of conflict with property owners. We hope this bill begins the process of resolving the shortcomings of the current law."
The day of the House committee vote on HR 4840, an environmental coalition sent a letter opposing the bill, signed by more than 300 scientists, including prominent members of the National Academy of Sciences, to members of Congress. The letter sets forth "principles that need to guide reflection on science and the Endangered Species Act," and calls on Congress to allow scientific data used in endangered species decisions to be "identified and analyzed by scientists free from political pressure and with adequate resources."
"Unless peer review processes and scientific methodologies are defined and managed by scientists, they have no credibility," said Dr. David Blockstein, a leading conservation biologist. "The hallmark of science is an independent search for truth - we all must respect that process and support it."
Nineteen of the nation's largest environmental groups also sent a letter to Congress calling for opposition to HR 4840, calling it a stealth attempt to undermine science and impede implementation of the Endangered Species Act.
"This is nothing but another attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act," said Susan Holmes, legislative representative for Earthjustice. "At a time when many species hover on the brink of extinction and need immediate, scientifically based action to ensure their survival, this legislation would be devastating."
"Mattson and Merrill found three factors that strongly correlate with the survival of grizzly bears today: the presence of whitebark pines, large ranges and low human density. One thing these factors have in common is that they help keep grizzlies away from people, who have been the primary cause of the species' decline."
And one approach to dealing with this is making it impossible for people to live, work or play in areas the EcoNazzis want as Grizzly "habitat." Thus, we "relocate" people out of the area - one way or another. Of course, local human residents don't get to vote on this, because it's all based on "science," don't you see? Surely you understand -NOT!
Well, for one reason, racoons, ducks, snakes deer and possum do not require human depopulation (or prohibition of human settlement) to survive. Besides, none of the animals you mentioned, with the exception of the four poisonous species of snakes in North America, kill humans.
But at least snakes keep the rodent population down. What contribution do the relatively limited numbers of grizzlies make to the eco-system?
I would argue that the price of keeping grizzlies in the lower 48 is too high when considered against the economic costs to humans of the Endangered Species Act -- which essentially gives the government de facto control over every square inch of United States territoty.
Why is it necessary to prevent the extinction of every species on the planet -- especially known human predators -- when species extinction has been a part of the natural order since the first random amino acids evolved into living cells.
Somehow, nature survived the loss of sabre toothed tigers, mammoths and mastodons.
Besides, there are still plenty of grizzlies north of the border.
The exclusion of humans for the benefit of grizzly bears who don't even currently live in the area is ludicrous.
They're top predators, and omnivores; scavengers par excellence. They clean up the dead and the weak and the excess. I live in Maryland, and we could use a few more top predators around here; deer are a hazard to one's health (on the roads) and one's garden.
The report seems to indicate that the protected status of grizzlies allows them to live in areas with higher population densities than optimum; i.e., you can't shoot a nuisance grizzly unless he/she is really a nuisance. The wildlife service will attempt to relocate the animals first. However, grizzlies are smart enough to know where food is plentiful and easy to get -- if people don't take care with their food sources, they can make grizzlies into a nuisance in a hurry. So while some number of people can co-exist with grizzlies, the people have to realize that they need to control some factors that would lead to higher grizzly-human interaction. It can be as simple as proper (and prompt) disposal of garbage.
But to what extent, and at what cost to human society in the lower 48? The maggots will take care of the dead quickly enough; the weak will likely die on their own.
The Grizzly is doing quite well in the current habitat areas. Survival isn't the issue, expanding their habitat areas is what the "strengthened" law is all about. These people always want to "reintroduce" animals to areas where they haven't been for some length of time, which IMO isn't realistic or fair to human residents of the areas the "Enviros" propose taking (which is what their proposal amounts to.) They are always pushing the edge of the envelope.
The Grizzly is an amazing animal we need to preserve. However, expanding their habitat territories is simply wrong.
Let's introduce them to New York City. We could populate Central Park with them. This would eliminate three problems.... a place for Grizzlies, yuppie joggers and homeless people.
The whole World is Human habitat.....If any animal cannot or will not live with us, it has to go.
90% of all the animals that have ever lived since the beginning of time are extinct. The World will be just fine without grizzly bears in the lower 48...trust me.
It's a fine follow-up, but note that your first question was what contribution grizzlies make to the ecosystem.
If you then want to go into cost-benefit, there are a host of additional questions. An example of what can happen with too many herbivores: spread of unwanted disease is enhanced. Ever hear of brucellosis? Well, a sick bison is a prime candidate for predation. Predators will target them and kill them before they infect a lot of others.
I mentioned one of the problems here out East: too many deer. People have been hurt and killed hitting deer crossing the road, and deer have become a nuisance to both homes and "wild" areas (though what passes for wild here isn't quite as wild as out West).
In essence, the question is one of ecosystem health. If you take out the top predator(s) in any ecosystem, the ecosystem will be out of whack. That can also have detrimental effects on nearby human populations. It's also one of the prime arguments for the reintroduction of wolves in many areas.
Nothing an extended hunting season can't fix. How effective are grizzlies in culling the deer popularions in the lower 48 anyway?
I wasn't advocating re-introducing grizzlies here (out East). But grizzlies are effective in their habitats. They eat everything and they eat a lot (that's why large ranges are required). We have black bears out here.
But note that the contribution of grizzlies isn't simply for the purpose of herbivore control. It's one reason for them that interacts with human interests. A more esoteric reason is that grizzlies are part of the wilderness. We should help preserve them for the same reason we should protect sharks -- because in a healthy ecosystem, the top predators are both predators and scavengers; they act as controls on "excess" in the ecosystem.
Extended hunting seasons have been tried to cull the deer population around where I live, but it's ineffective because the deer are small and stunted (too many of them!). Birth-control administered at feeding stations or salt licks appears to work better. I should also mention another problem that deer overpopulation brings with it: Lyme disease. Nasty.