Judge Saves Yellowstone Grizzlies From First Legal Hunt in Decades

Christopher Davidson
September 25, 2018

Grizzly bear hunt is off for 2018 after decision from federal judge today.

That was set to end this fall, when Wyoming and Idaho planned to allow the killing of 23 grizzlies.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, a staunch critic of the Endangered Species Act, said he was "disappointed" by Monday's decision, citing $50 million he said his state had spent on grizzly management over the past 15 years. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen had twice delayed the hunts, and the latest order blocking them was due to expire later this week.

The ruling came as the Trump administration is seeking to rewrite Endangered Species Act regulations that scientists say would erode wildlife protection for the benefit of commercial interests.

Environmentalists had argued that the growing Yellowstone population was expanding and could soon migrate far enough to merge with other grizzly populations around the U.S. Such an event could help maintain genetic diversity and ensure the long-term survival of the species as it recolonizes areas long devoid of the bears, but it also brought new fears of increased conflicts with humans.

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

The judge sided with wildlife groups, who say grizzlies are under threat 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.

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The judge pointed to two studies cited by the agency that he said actually contradicted the government's own conclusions that the Yellowstone grizzlies could remain genetically self-sufficient. "We should be celebrating grizzlies being alive not rushing to shoot them".

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.

"This is unfortunate. Game and Fish is a strong proponent of all wildlife management being led by people who live in this state and having management decisions made at the local level", said Scott Talbott, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

US 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.

"We're glad the court sided with science instead of states bent on reducing the Yellowstone grizzly population and subjecting these beloved bears to a trophy hunt", Bonnie Rice, a senior representative of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was expected to issue a decision on delisting another, even larger population of bears in and around Glacier National Park, later this fall.

Plaintiffs' attorney Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center said the agency should reconsider those plans in light of Christensen's ruling.

Grizzlies, which are slow to reproduce, number fewer than 2,000 bears across the Lower 48. "They shouldn't get away with this piecemeal delisting approach", Bishop said.

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