Grizzly bears - yellowstone - Steve Ard/IGBST

Photo credit Steve Ard/IGBST

Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee

The Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Recovery Area includes all of Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, as well as portions of northwest Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and southwest Montana. Other federal lands include the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests (NF), The Bridger-Teton NF, Caribou-Targhee NF, and the Custer, Gallatin and Shoshone National Forests. Federally-managed lands make up 97.9% of the recovery area’s 9,209 square miles. The majority of the ecosystem is covered in forested mountains. Grizzly bear occupy 48 percent more of this habitat now than when they were listed. Human occupancy of private lands adjacent to the Recovery Area has also increased since the grizzly was listed.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee (YES) is the multiagency organization charged with recovery of the grizzly in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. The committee is made up of federal, state, county, and tribal agency partners. YES is a subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), the multi-agency group made up of United States and Canadian agencies responsible for recovery of the grizzly bear in the contiguous United States and adjoining Canadian Provinces.

When grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem were listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1975, as few as 136 remained. Estimates today place the Yellowstone grizzly population at more than of 650. Since the mid- 1990s, the Yellowstone population has grown 4 to 7 percent per year. On November 15, 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the Yellowstone Distinct Population Segment (DPS) was a recovered population no longer meeting the ESA’s definition of threatened or endangered.

On March 29, 2007 the USFWS declared the Yellowstone grizzly bear was a distinct population segment which was fully recovered and removed it from the Endangered Species List. The decision was opposed by some conservation groups and scientists and a notice of intent to sue to strike down the delisting was filed on April 2, 2007.

On September 21, 2009, Judge Donald Molloy of the Ninth Federal District Court in Missoula, Montana issued an order enjoining and vacating the delisting of the Greater Yellowstone Area grizzly population. In compliance with this order, the Yellowstone grizzly population was once again listed as a threatened population under the ESA.

YES maintains that the Yellowstone grizzly bear population continues to be a recovered and expanding population that should be delisted. This opinion was shared by the USFWS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) who filed briefs on August 10, 2010 with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On November 22, 2011 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made a split decision. It affirmed the previous ruling that the role of whitebark pine had not been adequately addressed in the recovery plan, but more importantly if overturned the decision that adequate regulatory mechanisms were not in place to maintain a recovered Yellowstone grizzly population, minus the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This decision meant that the core structure of the Yellowstone recovery plan was found to be solid, affirming the commitment of the YES partners towards recovery.

Currently the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) is working to finalize data concerning whitebark pine and Yellowstone grizzly bears to show that while the pine nut can be a valuable food source, it was never utilized by all of the bears in the ecosystem consistently, even prior to current negative impacts on some of the trees.   Once the data has been peer reviewed it is expected that the Yellowstone grizzly bear will be once again petitioned for delisting.

The USFWS, YES, and IGBC all believe that the Yellowstone DPS represents a viable population of sufficient numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals able to provide a high likelihood that the species would continue to exist and be well distributed throughout this portion of its range for the foreseeable future. At the same time, The State and Federal agencies’ agreement to implement the extensive Conservation Strategy (CS) and state management plans will ensure that adequate regulatory mechanisms remain in place and that the Yellowstone grizzly bear population will not once again become an endangered species. At the present time YES continues with ongoing study, management, and education as outlined in the CS.

You can find more information about the Yellowstone Ecosystem on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Grizzly Bear Recovery page. On this page you will find maps, management documents, and Federal Register notices.

-Updated April, 2012.

Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee