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Congress could sidestep Endangered Species Act to delist grizzlies and wolves

mother bear and three small and adorable puppies in the Finnish taiga
Andrea Marzorati/lucaar
Adobe Stock
The current rate of species going extinct is estimated to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural background extinction rates, and is accelerating because of human activity including unsustainable use of land, water and energy use, and climate change.

Congress is considering three bills that would sidestep the Endangered Species Act to delist the Northern Continental Divide and Yellowstone grizzly bears, and all gray wolf populations.

Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project said the measures would undermine the Endangered Species Act, which requires the federal government to make listing decisions solely based on the best available science.

"And what Congress is doing here is, it's trying to take away that decision-making authority from the scientists and give it to politicians in Congress who have no qualifications as biologists or scientists to make these kinds of decisions," he said.

Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Game and Fish Department director, testified in favor of the measures that would return management of the species to states and claimed that environmental groups have been holding farmers, ranchers and government agencies hostage to continue Endangered Species Act protections.

Conservationists warn, as human activity drives what has been called Earth's sixth mass-extinction event, now is not the time to weaken a key tool to maintain the biodiversity that people also depend on.

Molvar said while there are ecosystems with nearly full recovery 1,000 grizzly bears, full recovery will require deepening their gene pool by connecting populations that are currently isolated, and will require deepening their gene pool by connecting populations that are currently isolated.

"Which makes them vulnerable to random acts of ecological disruption — like major weather events, or disease outbreaks, or other unexpected declines in population — because they are so close to the minimum number that's needed to maintain their genetic diversity," he said.

In states where wolves have been delisted — Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — Molvar said state governments have enacted aggressive wolf-killing policies, and added this is what will continue to happen if wolves are delisted in states that have no interest in preserving and recovering at-risk carnivores.

"And in Wyoming, wolf killing is allowed in 85% of the state without a hunting license, without any kind of limitations on season, without any limitation on bag limit. You can hunt them with night-vision goggles. You can run them over with snowmobiles," Molvar said.