Scientists Battle Over Fate Of Yellowstone's Grizzlies

Long protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Yellowstone grizzly population may have grown enough to come off the list. But many independent biologists say the Yellowstone grizzly is far from healthy, and they're trying to keep the government from "delisting" it.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The North America's grizzly bear is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Its population was virtually wiped out in the lower 48 states. One group of bears, though, may soon lose that protection - the Yellowstone grizzly. Some scientists say that group is thriving. Others disagree. NPR's Christopher Joyce has more on the battle over the bear.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: The U.S. government tried to take Yellowstone Park's grizzlies off the protected list years ago but biologists persuaded a federal court to ask for more research, especially whether the bears have enough food to survive. The answer partially revolves around the white bark pine tree. Yellowstone grizzlies eat pine nuts - lots of them.

But bark beetles have been killing the trees in staggering numbers. This week, a panel of experts told the government it's OK, there are enough trees and nuts, and bears are switching to meat anyway. But David Mattson, a bear biologist who opposes the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly, says more meat means more dead bears.

DAVID MATTSON: You're going to be more often running into hunters. You're going to be more often running into ranchers. If you're killing livestock, you're going to end up dead in pretty short order.

JOYCE: A decision on whether to unprotect the Yellowstone grizzly is expected in a few months. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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