Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Complicated Quest to Save the Grizzly

Last week, inside his office on the University of Montana campus, Chris Servheen wrapped up his 35-year career as the federal government’s first and only grizzly bear recovery coordinator. The occasion on April 29 passed without fanfare as the 65-year-old worked quietly and alone, the final minutes winding down on a career as turbulent as it was influential. As the foremost person tasked with saving a species as iconic as the grizzly bear, which teetered on the brink of extinction only 50 years ago, Servheen has been at the center of controversy and scrutiny for much of the last four decades. When he started in 1981, he tried saving the species with the help of state, federal and tribal agencies while also trying to reshape society’s views of grizzlies and how Americans live and recreate in bear country. As a result, he has been both reviled and revered. For someone who has stared down countless grizzlies in the wild, he has endured far graver death threats in person and over the phone from enraged environmentalists and ranchers...On March 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published his final work: the proposed delisting rule that seeks to remove protections under the Endangered Species Act for the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone region. The proposed delisting would remove ESA protections for the population — estimated at 717 grizzlies in 2015 — but maintain research and monitoring. It would turn over management of the species to the states and allow for a hunting season, a controversial aspect that tribes, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, oppose. Servheen’s proposal sets the threshold for the grizzly population at 674; any dip below 600 would halt any “discretionary mortalities,” such as hunting. Critics and federal judges have centered on climate change as a serious threat to bears and other species. Servheen counters this claim, saying grizzlies are resilient enough to handle the changing climate. “The issue of climate change is real,” he said, adding, “The reason grizzly bears are going to disappear is because we kill them all or we take all their habitat away. Not because of climate change. To the bitter end, Servheen held his ground, confident in his life’s work. “The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to get animals off of it. The ESA works. We need to show that it works,” he said. “The future of the other grizzly bears and the future of many other species that need help under the ESA is dependent on delisting when we’ve reached our goals and we have good management in place.”He continued, “We have hundreds of more bears today than I ever thought we’d have. We have bears in places where they haven’t lived in more than 100 years. We have bears living in places I never would’ve guessed they’d be living. I didn’t think back then that we would have the success we have today.” ...more

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