Survival of the Louisiana black bear requires that it regain protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of conservation groups led by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with co-counsel Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. The lawsuit cites mounting threats to the remaining small populations for which existing safeguards are inadequate. The Louisiana black bear is one of 16 subspecies of the American black bear. It is often referred to as “Teddy’s Bear,” because President Theodore Roosevelt once famously refused to shoot one that had been tied to a tree, saying it would not be sporting. Today, the Louisiana black bear has lost 99 percent of its historic population and more than 97 percent of its historic range. The bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) declared it recovered in 2016 and removed its designation of critical habitat made only six years prior.
The suit contends this decision was based on false assumptions and shoddy science, such as relying upon recovery corridors that do not connect true native populations. The suit also argues the recovery plan relied on by FWS in its delisting decision puts the bear in greater jeopardy, by ignoring:
· Steadily increasing loss of bottomland forest and other critical habitat due to climate change;
·Uncontrolled and rising human-caused mortality, from vehicular collisions, poaching and other causes; and
·The severe threat of hybridization with a non-native bear population introduced for sport-hunting.
“The Louisiana black bear is a victim of biological malpractice,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who filed the complaint today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of co-plaintiffs Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Sierra Club and its Delta Chapter, the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, as well as the three authorities who initiated the original 1992 listing.
“Delisting the Louisiana black bear was a premature claim of ‘Mission Accomplished.’” “Not only is the Louisiana black bear an iconic figure in Louisiana culture, but the bear plays an important role in the diverse ecosystems across Louisiana, including the Atchafalaya Basin. The delisting decision puts remaining populations and the habitat they depend on in greater peril,” stated Misha Mitchell, co-counsel and staff attorney for Atchafalaya Basinkeeper
The complaint also argues that the population size of Louisiana black bears was overestimated. But, even if the population levels relied upon in the delisting are taken at face value, the population densities are well below normal for a sustainable black bear population.
“Unlike the one granted a Presidential reprieve, today’s Louisiana black bear is in imminent peril,” added Dinerstein. “We fear that as a distinct subspecies, it will not survive its so-called recovery.”