A delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear was expected by the first of the year but has been pushed back at least six months after a public comment period brought in thousands of letters of opposition. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Regional Director Michael Thabault says over 650,000 comments poured in, and it's going to take them longer than expected to respond.
“There are concerns about the hunting program that the states may or may not embark on,” said Thabault. “I think there's general concern that the species may not be at the point of recovery. There's been concerns about food sources and the overall population level, how we may monitor.”
Thabault says many of the comments were from tribes who consider the bear an important cultural icon.
“We have a number of letters from many tribes, not only throughout the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem but throughout the country,” he said. “We've had a number of formal and informal meetings with a number of tribes and we're taking all of those comments into consideration making our final decision.”
Wyoming's Northern Arapaho tribe recently voted against a post-delisting conservation strategy and signed a treaty aligning with tribes in the U.S. and Canada that are also opposed to delisting.
Thabault says responding to the comments will take time because they raise serious scientific questions concerning hunting seasons, as well as the lack of connection between isolated bear populations and dwindling food sources.
Thabault says the delay is also necessary to help transition the delisting process over to the incoming Trump administration.