Interior secretary expects delisting grizzlies in 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has informed Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead that he shares the governor's desire to end federal protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears.

Salazar wrote to Mead last week, saying he expects the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies will finish their analysis of the effect of the decline of the whitebark pine tree on bear populations by early 2014.

Scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies have been addressing the whitebark pine issue, Salazar wrote. "All participants agreed that the Yellowstone grizzly population was recovered and that declines in whitebark pine do not threaten the future of the grizzly population," he stated.

The bears in the Greater Yellowstone area, which includes the nation's oldest national park and surrounding lands in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, originally were delisted in 2007. However, a legal challenge from environmental groups resulted in the bears being relisted in 2009.

Biologists estimate the Greater Yellowstone area has at least 600 grizzly bears. A federal appeals court last year ruled that more work was necessary to document how the decline of whitebark pine might affect the grizzly population before they could be delisted again.

The whitebark, an important food source for grizzlies and other species, has declined by 90 percent in some areas of the northern Rockies. Officials blame factors including a lack of natural forest fires and warmer weather that results in less snowfall.