WildEarth Guardians Sue USFWS over Yellowstone Grizzly Protections

WildEarth Guardians has formally filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears.

WildEarth Guardians previously announced their intent to sue when the USFWS announced in June 2017 that Yellowstone grizzlies would be removed from the Endangered Species List, after nearly two years of deliberation.

Montana, Wyoming and Idaho assumed management of the bears in late July 2017.

The USFWS has faced criticism for its decision to delist the bears, a decision that’s likely been in the works for nearly a decade. The USFWS previously delisted Yellowstone grizzlies in 2007; in 2009, a federal judge ruled against the service and reinstated protections, saying the agency had not adequately considered the impacts of climate change on grizzly food supply.

According to a WildEarth press release, the group filed its lawsuit at 12:05 a.m. August 30, 2017—exactly 60 days after the USFWS announced its decision:

“The Service failed to carry out its paramount – and mandatory – duty to ensure grizzly bears in the contiguous United States are recovered to the point at which the protections of the Endangered Species Act are no longer necessary,” said Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Service’s decision is riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in the crosshairs of extinction once again.”

The lawsuit faults the Service for illegally designating grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone as a “distinct population segment” and simultaneously removing protections from the population without first considering the impact such removal will have on imperiled grizzly populations located elsewhere in the lower 48 states. The suit also highlights the Service’s failure to use the best available science when it determined that grizzlies in the Yellowstone region are recovered.

“Biologists agree that grizzly recovery hinges on connecting isolated populations and distributing the genes they carry,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing Guardians. “Under this illegal and ill-advised plan, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would be the first to die.”

WIldEarth Guardians is not the only group filing suit against the USFWS over its grizzly decision. A coalition of Native American tribes announced they were filing a suit against the agency on religious grounds, arguing the service’s decision endangers the bears, which are considered sacred by many tribes.

The WildEarth announcement comes a week after U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ruled the USWFS erred in trying to reclassify grizzly bears in northern Montana’s Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem as “threatened” instead of “in danger.” From the Ravalli Republic:

The order restores Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies to “warranted but precluded” for endangered species status, which means it probably qualifies for the highest level of federal protection but the agency doesn’t have the resources to scientifically confirm that conclusion. FWS officials in 2014 reclassified the bears as “threatened,” which is a lower class of protection.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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