Washington, DC — Survival of the Louisiana black bear requires that it regain protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to a notice of intent to file suit released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The filing contends that the 2016 delisting of the Louisiana black bear was extremely premature, based on false premises, and flew in the face of a wealth of the best available science – the standard that is supposed to govern Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions.
The bear was listed as threatened under the ESA back in 1992, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) declared it recovered last year and removed that designation. This decision came despite the fact that the Louisiana black bear has lost 99% of its historic population (with only an estimated 700 bears remaining in the wild) and more than 97% of its historic range.
The PEER notice is co-signed by the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the Delta (Louisiana) Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, as well as by three eminent Louisiana black bear experts. It argues that the recovery plan relied upon by FWS in its delisting decision actually puts the bear in greater jeopardy, by –
- Opening the subspecies up to hybridization with black bears introduced from Minnesota;
- Increasing its mortality from vehicle collisions and poaching, the two leading causes of deaths; and
- Ignoring habitat loss, especially climate change-induced inundation of bayou swamps, while identifying “recovery corridors” that are not even connecting.
“Delisting the Louisiana black bear was a badly misguided attempt to pull an Endangered Species Act success story out of the hat,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that if the FWS does not re-list the bear within 60 days, then PEER and its co-signers may sue FWS to force that action. “We do not believe stripping the Louisiana black bear of all federal protections withstands judicial scrutiny.”
The Louisiana black bear is one of 16 subspecies of the American black bear. Noted for its narrower and flatter skull, adult males can weigh more than 600 pounds. President Theodore Roosevelt once famously refused to shoot a treed Louisiana black bear because it would not be sporting. The incident went viral (in an early 20th century fashion) with the print press dubbing it “Teddy’s bear” – thus popularizing a stuffed animal bearing that moniker.
The notice also points out that even if the population levels relied upon in the delisting are taken at face value, the population densities are well below normal for well-managed black bear populations.
“Unlike its treed ancestor that received a reprieve, today’s Louisiana black bear is in imminent and deepening peril,” added Dinerstein. “We fear the Louisiana black bear, as a distinct subspecies, will not survive its so-called recovery.”