“Delisting” of Grizzlies is Not a Dirty Word

“Delisting” of Grizzlies is Not a Dirty Word

Photo credit: Keith R. Crowley/

The clock is ticking. The 60-day waiting period required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after the recent delisting of the grizzly bears is approaching, and science must rule the day. While anti-hunting organizations led by the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice are lining up to file a federal lawsuit on day 61 in August to prevent their delisting, it’s long past time to explain to the general public that “delisting” is not a dirty word.

For those unaware, delisting is the process of removing animals from the ESA list of species whose populations need help in recovering from an endangered or threatened status. Masters at disseminating misinformation, anti-hunters and anti-hunting organizations have been using the word "delisting" as a pejorative or even a profanity—it's not.

Animals are not listed to provide sacrosanct and perpetual protection of a particular species. They are listed to protect them until they recover to a carefully considered level of self-sustainability and then removed from the list (delisted). Those who hate the word “delisted” haven't paused to consider that delisting is, in fact, the ultimate goal of every ESA species. Every single animal species placed on the list is put there with the hope that it will recover and ultimately be removed from the list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) own Delisting Fact Sheet states, “The goal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to conserve endangered and threatened species. …When a species is able to survive on its own in the wild, the species is considered ‘recovered’ and protection of the ESA is no longer necessary.”

The pertinent part of the Endangered Species Act is this:

(f)(1) RECOVERY PLANS.—The Secretary shall develop and implement plans (hereinafter in this subsection referred to as "recovery plans") for the conservation and survival of endangered species and threatened species listed pursuant to this section, unless he finds that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. The Secretary, in developing and implementing recovery plans, shall, to the maximum extent practicable...
(B) incorporate in each plan—
(ii) objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination, in accordance with the provisions of this section, that the species be removed from the list;

Indeed, there are only two ways for a species to be removed from the ESA list. One is due to extinction in the wild—an outcome that none of us want to see. The other is because population goals for the species when it was added are met or exceeded, which is formally known as "recovery"—the goal everyone should be working to meet. In other words, delisting due to recovery is proof positive of a wildlife success story. Period.

Unfortunately, despite having science on the side of delisting, not everyone agrees. Johnny Carrol Sain, editor at Hatch Magazine and self-proclaimed hunter, writes: "Delisting by those in power now is not about a job well done, a successful repopulation. It’s about, again, removing the spiritual guardians of a place, making more room for whatever makes more dollars. When you hear about motions to delist a species, this is really what you’re hearing. It’s the ominous rumblings of progress and profit trying hard to sound like conservation success in action."

There are a couple of problems with Sain's assertion. First, Sain is suggesting that the current Federal administration suddenly decided to delist grizzles for profit—untrue. Like the Western Great Lakes wolves case, the delisting efforts were non-partisan, bridged administrations and were recommended by the people responsible for the recovery—the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST). Studying the bear’s growing populations occurred over the course of many years and the delisting recommendation was done in accordance with the legal statutes contained in the ESA.

As Tom France, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula, Mont., noted in a recent New York Times article, the grizzly population “has recovered under any metric we look at. We should consider it a great success.

Another issue with Sain's argument is that by using words like repopulation versus recovery, he appears to be advocating for a return of grizzlies to their entire historical range before delisting can occur. In a social media comment following his article, he stated, "A population increase of 500 over 40 years and still hanging on only two percent of historical range is not by any stretch a success." This sounds suspiciously similar to the argument used by anti-hunting groups to successfully shut down the wolf management efforts in the Western Great Lakes following the 2011 delisting.

The idea that grizzly bears could ever inhabit more than a small percentage of their historic range is a fantasy. Unless Sain and his allies are advocating for a reduction in the human population across all grizzly habitat, delisting and careful state management is the only viable solution to the increasing human/grizzly conflicts. Unfortunately, we live in an age where animal rights extremist groups are continually searching for problems where there are none. Even if they recognize that delisting is a good thing, they won't let on that they know it. It doesn't line their coffers, and fear mongering is big business.

In 2016, perennial grizzly pundit Doug Peacock wrote in Outside Magazine, “With delisting, the federal government will turn over grizzly management decisions outside of the park’s boundaries to three states that everyone knows will show no restraint in killing grizzlies." Peacock knows this isn't true. He knows that hunting in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is a highly regulated, carefully considered affair. There is simply too much effort and pastime involved in game management to suddenly put it in the hands of bloodthirsty amateurs. Hunting in those western states, like elsewhere, is partly a business. State agencies in the northern Rockies have no desire to see grizzlies, wolves or any other species return to the Endangered Species List. It doesn't make fiscal sense. But Peacock doesn't care because it doesn't serve his purposes.

"The Yellowstone grizzly is marooned, making a last stand against global warming and the guns of autumn. Stripping the great bear of its Endangered Species Act protections will directly contribute to its demise." No, Mr. Peacock, delisting is just another step in a well thought out process—a process which has thus far worked out incredibly well for grizzlies.

For more background information on the delisting of the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, check out articles “USWFS Proposes Delisting the Grizzly Bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” and “Hunters May Soon Get Grizzly Bear Tags in the Greater Yellowstone Area.”