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Grizzlies could have protections removed under a bill in Congress

 a grizzly bear facing toward the camera in a green, vegetated area
Jim Urquhart
A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

Members of Idaho's Congressional delegation want to remove endangered species protections for grizzly bears.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has introduced a bill to take grizzlies off the endangered species list in the lower 48 states. Risch said it's "clear grizzly populations have rebounded."

Nick Gevock, field organizer of Northern Rockies wildlands and wildlife for the Sierra Club, is not so sure. He said if states are left in charge of management, it likely will halt recovery of the species.

"The states have made clear -- all three states that are essential for this, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho -- that they want to manage for absolute bare minimum numbers of grizzly bears in isolated populations," Gevock pointed out.

Before their decline, there were an estimated 50,000 grizzlies in the West. When they went on the endangered species list in 1975, there were about 700-800. Current estimates put the number around 1,900. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who also supports delisting, said the species would be better managed at the local level.

Gevock noted the two major populations of grizzlies in the lower 48 are in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and in and around Yellowstone National Park.

"That Yellowstone population is genetically isolated from other grizzly bear populations," Gevock explained. "Getting those two major populations connected is essential if we're serious about long term grizzly bear conservation and management."

Gevock added the species is emblematic of the region.

"Grizzly bears are really the essence of the Northern Rockies and I think they deserve continued protection so that we can fully reach true grizzly bear recovery," Gevock urged.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.