Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 | 2:04 a.m.
Anyone who has driven through Yellowstone National Park in recent years is certain to have spotted large clusters of dying whitebark pines. The high-elevation trees, when healthy, produce fatty seeds that are an important food source for the estimated 600 grizzly bears that live in or near the park.
But global warming and other maladies have taken a toll on these trees, exposing them to massive beetle infestation that is robbing bears of access to the seeds.
Federal Judge Donald Molloy in Montana ruled Monday that the tree devastation and the adverse effect it is having on the bears are why it was a mistake for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bush administration in 2007 to remove the Yellowstone grizzly from the threatened species list.
The wildlife service was convinced that the bear population had grown sufficiently to merit being delisted. But Molloy said the agency ignored scientific research, including the conclusion of its own scientists, that tied grizzly survival to that of the pines.
As evidence that the delisting was premature, 48 bear deaths were recorded in the Yellowstone area last year by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study team. Environmental groups led by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which sued the government to return the bears to threatened status, stated those deaths represented the most in a single year since the 1970s. Many of those deaths occurred when bears, in search of food, wandered into areas where they became easier targets for hunters.
Molloy’s ruling is a reminder of the environmental policies that went awry under the Bush administration.
The alarming number of grizzly bear deaths last year should prompt the Obama administration to do whatever is possible to attack the beetle infestation and preserve the health of the remaining whitebark pines.
It is a shame that Yellowstone’s ecosystem has suffered such extensive damage. That is why every effort should be made to preserve the park’s wildlife inhabitants and the natural splendor that made Yellowstone the first national park.