Grizzly bears numbered in the tens of thousands in the early decades of the
pioneering of the Americas.
Since then, their numbers have fallen drastically to, by some
estimates, no more than 1,200.
Even more alarming, these bears which previously lived
on several million acres of land now find themselves occupying as little as 1 to 2 percent
of their previous habitat.
In response, these bears were placed under the protection of the
Endangered Species Act in July of 1975 (Hagarty).
Under this act, the grizzlies were
protected in two distinct ways: the first protected the bears physically from being,
“harass[ed], harm[ed], pursue[d], hunt[ed], [shot], wound[ed], kill[ed], trap[ed],
capture[d], or collect[ed]”, according to the text of the act (Hagarty).
protected specifically their habitat from development.
While there is debate about
removing the first tier of protection from the bears with environments staunchly split
about the appropriateness of the timing, many dissenters are relieved by the fact that
bears living in the Yellowstone protected area, dubbed the “recovery zone” – which
encompasses 6 million acres of land – would still fall under federal protection despite
concerns that the one-third of the bear population that resides outside of this area in the
three surrounding states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming would be subject to only
specific state protections that may or may not be enacted (Stuckey).
However, a concern
about the removal of the second tier of protection is even greater.
Experts fear that this
one-third that lives outside the recovery area would be subjected to development that was
formerly restricted due to the bear’s status.
According to one expert’s concerns, once the
bears are delisted, “the Bush Administration really has nothing to slow down oil and gas
development and timber harvest in those areas” (“Uproar Over Grizzlies”).
As a result,
those involved in the process are still starkly divided in the debate of whether or not it is