U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen extended a temporary restraining order that blocks a Yellowstone-area grizzly trophy hunt in Idaho and Wyoming, as the legal debate continues over federal delisting of the bears from endangered status and turning management over to the states.
Groups opposing the trophy hunts had asked for a 14-day extension to Christensen’s original order. Delisting Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies has been a contentious issue since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted in 2017 to remove Endangered Species protections. Several advocacy groups have worked to place the grizzlies back under protection.
Idaho and Wyoming had scheduled a bear hunt beginning Sept. 1, with Idaho issuing a single permit and Wyoming issuing 23 licenses, with a quota of 12 bears.
“Even temporary measures like a two-week restraining order protect these bears from the immediate threats of the hunting season,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “But the grizzly is still facing long-term threats that the government hasn’t yet meaningfully addressed.”
Grizzly bears were first protected in the lower 48 states as an endangered species in 1975, when approximately 150 grizzlies were estimated to survive in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The population slowly grew to 700 bears, with USFWS officials arguing was enough of a stable base to allow delisting in 2016. Without protections, grizzly-bear management came under the purview of Idaho, Wyoming (which authorized Yellowstone grizzly hunts) and Montana, which passed on establishing a bear hunt. And while no hunting would have happened in Yellowstone National Park, they would have been allowed in areas directly adjacent to the Park.
For the advocacy groups, the issue isn’t totally the current population, but the future of the species in a changing world. Also—and this was a key point for Christensen—the current population is limited to 2 percent of its traditional range, and the decision by the USFWS did not consider the rest of the grizzly population in the lower 48. A decision from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., last fall affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a delisting of Great Lakes gray wolves was in error, as it did not take into account other wolf populations in the United States. The original decision to protect U.S. grizzlies covered all grizzly populations, including the 1,000 or so grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, but the delisting decision was specific to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies, allowing for Yellowstone grizzly hunts. That decision regarding gray-wolf delisting was cited by Christensen in his decision to issue the 14-day delay.
“We are gratified Yellowstone’s beloved bears are once again safe from trophy hunters’ bullets,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We look forward to the judge’s thoughtful resolution of the deep flaws with the feds’ removal of protections from these imperiled bears.”
“We appreciate that Judge Christensen is preventing any unnecessary bloodshed while he deliberates on this important case,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “There is simply no need to rush into a grizzly bear hunt, with potentially devastating consequences for this iconic species, when the merits of that hunt are being reviewed in federal court.”
Image of Yellowstone grizzly courtesy National Park Service.