Three decades of successful conservation efforts have prompted Interior Secretary Gale Norton to propose removing the greater Yellowstone population of grizzly bears from the list of federal endangered species.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council say ranchers are playing an increasingly larger role in species recovery efforts at the local level. Each time a species is removed from federal listing, not only is it a victory for conservation but it lessens the burdens that ranchers and landowners face every day.
"This is good news for ranchers who graze cattle in the Rocky Mountain area of our country," says Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and a Wyoming rancher and NCBA/PLC member. "This action could remove some of the restrictions on ranchers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho."
ESA listings often require that ranchers remove livestock from grazing areas determined to be "conflict areas." In some circumstances, ranchers have actually lost their grazing allotments in areas inhabited by grizzly bears.
While ESA designations can be burdensome, ranchers agree they have a vital role to play in on-the-ground species recovery efforts. "Ranchers have been called upon to change some of our management practices such as moving herds away from habitats," says Magagna. "Our producer-members have made a greater commitment to conservation efforts, but we see better results when we participate voluntarily than if we have government mandates forced on producers."
One example of a voluntary effort that has proven successful: In January 2005, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the greater sage grouse does not warrant protection under the ESA. This decision was based on the success of local conservation partnerships in ranching communities. NCBA and PLC are hopeful that such voluntary efforts will be encouraged as the Senate considers ESA reform legislation.
"Ranchers are on the land every day," says Magagna. "Ranchers want to participate in species recovery efforts rather than be forced to change the way they manage their herds because of federal mandates."
The proposal to delist the grizzly bear will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, November 17.