New research findings indicate that the Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear population is not as heavily dependent on whitebark pine trees as previously thought. Biologists thought that whitebark pine nuts were a staple of hungry bears looking to bulk up before their winter hibernation. This past assumption led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to overturn a 2007 decision to remove the bears from the federal protections list in 2010. At that later date a federal district judge ruled that the grizzlies’ delisting did not take into account the loss of the whitebark pine as a significant food source.
The more recent findings, presented on November 7, 2013 indicate that the grizzly diet is more varied than pine nuts. The study showed that the bears eat more elk and bison meat, as well as insects, berries and trout. As a result, the subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee voted 10-4 in its decision to accept the research findings, which means the subcommittee will recommend that the USFWS remove the grizzly from its “threatened” position on the federal protections list.
If the USFWS does decide to delist the bears, then the animals’ management will be turned over to the states in which they live. Each state would have license to establish bear hunting seasons. The decision is expected to be made by the end of December 2013.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife bear researcher Chris Servheen said the USFWS would make a final decision on a delisting rule by the end of December, based upon the IGBC recommendations.
“There's no decision yet. That will depend on the input we get,” USFWS bear researcher Chris Servheen told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “If we decide to produce a new proposed rule, we will start the process immediately in 2014.”