The removal of the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species list was celebrated as a great success for the embattled federal law designed to safeguard and restore the nation's most vulnerable creatures. But warnings at the time that the controversy wasn't over have proved true.
Idaho is considering a crackdown on grizzly bear poachers, as it and neighboring states take responsibility for protecting the iconic predator in the absence of federal protections. And the Bush Administration is meeting resistance as it tries to open up 6 million acres of habitat to new commercial development.
So scientists, conservationists and animal lovers alike are up in arms. What else is new? It's only the latest example of controversy related to the Bush Administration's Endangered Species Act decisions.
Last week, fury reached another boiling point as two dozen scientists descended on Capitol Hill to protest Bushs "systematic dismantling" of the Endangered Species Act, according to the Washington Post. Scientists are upset about "repeated instructions to change U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommendations on safeguarding plants and animals" in ways that favor oil and gas exploration, logging and development.
Such is the case of the majestic grizzly bear. Ever since Lewis and Clark first encountered one ambling in Idahos Bitterroot Mountains, the grizzly bear has remained a symbol of frontier spirit. Known as the king of the forest, the grizzly is one of the worlds largest and most frightening predators. Yet, 400 pound of brute force, claws and jaw havent protected the grizzly from extinction.
After grizzlies nearly disappeared in the 1970s, the Reagan Administration listed them as threatened, setting off three decades of protection under the Endangered Species Act that led to a tripling of the bear population. In 2005, the Bush Administration revoked its protected status, declaring the bear recovered. Great news, right? The symbol of the American West, like the wolf, had climbed back from the brink of extinction.
Not so fast. Even while wildlife conservation groups cheered the success of the grizzly's recovery, they warned that the decision would pave the way for commercial exploitation on formerly protected lands. True enough. The Bush Administration now plans to start phosphate mining, commercial logging and energy exploration on 6 million acres that includes part of Idaho's Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is set amidst a region of renowned American wilderness near the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, six national forests and two national wildlife refuges in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. A majority of Idaho voters oppose that plan, according to a recent poll.
Meanwhile, concerned that habitat loss and increased hunting may see the grizzly slide again toward extinction, Idaho has proposed a $10,000 reward for turning in those who poach grizzly bears on protected lands. Some claim such a bill could backfire, hurting people who killed bears in self-defense. (While there is no comprehensive data on grizzly-human conflicts, a recent Associated Press article claims that at least a dozen grizzly bear attacks have been reported since April 2007.
Similar controversies, each with their own character, are playing out in relation to other prominent Endangered Species Act decisions about wolves, bald eagles and others. How do we treat vulnerable species that have made a recovery? How much protection do these species deserve? You haven't heard the last from the grizzly bear.
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