Lummis pushes bill to let states regulate grizzly populations after Haaland flubbed bear question in hearing

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Sen. Cynthia Lummis on Thursday will introduce a bill aimed at letting states regulate populations of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a large stretch of land that includes parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 

The bill would remove the bears from the federal Endangered Species List after their populations recovered significantly in recent years, allowing states to take a more active role in stewardship of the species. Lummis, R-Wyo., is joined by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; James Risch, R-Idaho; and Steve Daines, R-Mont., in pushing the bill.

The introduction of the bill follows a contentious exchange between Daines and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during her recent confirmation hearing, in which Daines pressed her on why she supported a bill that would have put the grizzlies under federal protection forever.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., attends a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee nomination hearing for Michael Stanley Regan to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Caroline Brehman/Pool/Sipa USA)
(Caroline Brehman/Pool/Sipa USA)

Daines asked Haaland why, during her time in Congress, she sponsored such a bill despite the fact the bears were now “well above carrying capacity.” Carrying capacity is a biology term referring to the number of a certain type of organisms an ecosystem is capable of supporting. 

“I imagine at the time I was caring about the bears,” Haaland said. 

Daines replied: “Why don’t you think grizzly management should be returned back to the state once the recovery targets are met?”

Former Rep. Debra Haaland, D-N.M., testifies before a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be secretary of the interior on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. She was confirmed as the interior secretary earlier this month. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)
((Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP))

“I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be returned back to the states,” Haaland said. 

“Well, that’s what your legislation you co-sponsored said,” Daines said. “Is it would keep it in federal protections forever, in perpetuity.” 

Haaland then said she would be willing to look at the issue in more detail after she is confirmed before Daines moved on to a different topic. 

The senators on Thursday touted the grizzlies’ population recovery and said their states are more than capable of managing the bears. 

“Grizzly bears are an essential part of the ecosystem of Wyoming, but keeping them listed hurts their populations more than it helps them,” Lummis said. “Wildlife managers that live near the bears and study them closely have a better idea of population parameters than bureaucrats in Washington. It’s time to delist the grizzly in our area and let science dictate our wildlife policy.”

A grizzly bear mother (sow) and her cub on a rocky hilltop observing their surroundings looking for food and watching for danger near the Lamar Valley canyon off the Gardiner to Cooke City highway in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.


Added Risch: “Grizzly bears met their recovery goals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem more than a decade ago thanks to the hard work of states like Idaho. Yet instead of being appropriately delisted, the species has been subject to circular legal battles at the whim of activist judges that accomplish nothing and waste taxpayers’ money. This legislation recognizes it’s time to follow the science and common sense and delist the grizzly bear.”

The senators’ bill notably says it would be exempt from judicial review. 

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., previously introduced a version of this bill in the House of Representatives. 

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