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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and state wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are deep into the process of delisting the Yellowstone grizzly population from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). So far, it has gone well for the pro-delisting advocates. Most agencies, politicians, newspaper editorials, and even a few major green groups have supported delisting the famous bears of Yellowstone. But alas, suddenly, there is a problem. Concurrently with efforts to delist the Yellowstone, the Bush Administration is weakening the plans governing the management of national forests, including the six surrounding Yellowstone National Park that provide critical habitat for grizzly bears. These two forces have now collided, and we now have the proverbial “legal hurdle.”?

Delisting Hits Bureaucratic Snag

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and state wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are deep into the process of delisting the Yellowstone grizzly population from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). So far, it has gone well for the pro-delisting advocates. Most agencies, politicians, newspaper editorials, and even a few major green groups have supported delisting the famous bears of Yellowstone. But alas, suddenly, there is a problem.

Concurrently with efforts to delist the Yellowstone, the Bush Administration is weakening the plans governing the management of national forests, including the six surrounding Yellowstone National Park that provide critical habitat for grizzly bears. These two forces have now collided, and we now have the proverbial “legal hurdle.”?

This can get complicated, but briefly, the delisting plan depends, in part, on the habitat protection standards now part of the plans for national forests surrounding Yellowstone Park. Until recently, these plans had close to the force of law, and the FS couldn’t change them on a whim to address new circumstances or political whims. The new plans are “visioning documents,”? making habitat protection almost as elusive as the big bear itself. The ESA requires that adequate regulatory measures be in place to assure habitat protection, but the new plans do not, at least according to some environmentalists, meet this standard.

“The Bush administration has changed the rules of the game, and the rules of the game are there will be no standards in forest plans,” says attorney Doug Honnold of Earthjustice in 2006-01-13

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