Judge restores protections for grizzly bears, blocking hunts

Blanche Robertson
September 25, 2018

A federal judge on Monday restored endangered species protection to about 700 grizzly bears living in or around Yellowstone National Park just days before Wyoming and Idaho were set to allow the hunting of almost two dozen of the animals.

Yellowstone area grizzly bears have been returned to the endangered species list.

USA law prohibits hunting altogether inside the park, and Montana had decided against a grizzly hunt, citing its concerns about long-term recovery of a bear population that is arguably one of the most celebrated and photographed in the world.

"By delisting the Greater Yellowstone grizzly without analyzing how delisting would affect the remaining members of the lower-48 grizzly designation, the Service failed to consider how reduced protections in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem would impact the other grizzly populations", Christensen wrote.

The judge's ruling makes permanent a court order barring Wyoming and Idaho from going ahead with plans to open grizzly hunting seasons allowing as many as 23 bears in the two states to be shot and killed for sport outside of Yellowstone park.

In his ruling on Monday, Judge Dana Christensen stated that the case was "not about the ethics of hunting".

State and federal officials reacted with disappointment.

Governor Matt Mead added, "I am disappointed with today's decision".

"The significance is that now grizzly bears truly have a chance to recover".

"The Court is aware of the high level of public interest in this case, as well as the strong feelings the grizzly bear evokes in individuals, from ranchers and big game hunters to conservationists and animal rights activists".

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The ruling marks a victory for wildlife advocates and Native American tribes that sued when the Interior Department previous year revoked federal protections for more than 700 grizzly bears living in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Wildlife advocates argued that the animals face continued threats from climate change and loss of habitat.

Tim Preso, an attorney with EarthJustice who represented numerous plaintiffs, said Christensen's ruling made clear that the government had moved too hastily to remove protections because bears are absent from much of their historical range.

"Putting the blinders on to everything other than Yellowstone grizzlies was illegal", he said.

Government biologists contend Yellowstone's grizzlies are thriving, have adapted to changes in their diet and are among the best-managed bears in the world.

Grizzly numbers in the Yellowstone area have increased from 136 in 1975 to more than 700 today - in large part because of wildlife conservation measures, costing millions of dollars.

Jennifer Strickland, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "In light of the court's ruling, management of these grizzly bears returns to the federal government, a dn we will work with the state and tribes to ensure that this transition proceeds in accordance with the court's order".

The Trump administration's decision in June of past year to "de-list" the grizzly, formally proposed in 2016 during the Obama era, was based on agency findings that the bears' numbers had rebounded enough in recent decades that federal safeguards were no longer necessary.

The grizzly population in and around Yellowstone has recovered significantly since it was first listed as endangered more than 40 years ago, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had hailed their recovery when the agency said it planned to remove such protections. "They shouldn't get away with this piecemeal delisting approach", Bishop said.

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