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Feds: Reverse Decision to Maintain Yellowstone Grizzlies Protections

Federal lawyers argued to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Yellowstone grizzlies protections should be removed, saying removal of Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from Endangered Species Act safeguards was warranted.

Last September U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen restored Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears, and in the process permanently ended planned trophy hunts in Idaho and Wyoming. In his ruling, Christensen made it clear he was ruling on one central issue: whether the United States Fish and Wildlife Service exceed its legal authority when it delisted the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear. His conclusion: yes. The process for delisting calls for USFWS to consider the effect on all grizzlies in the Lower 48, not just the Yellowstone grizzlies, and the evidence was clear that the USFWS skipped this step in the evaluation process.

In their appeal 0f the Christensen decision, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers argued that the process for delisting did not mandate consideration of all grizzly-bear populations, and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could indeed just look at the local population when considering Yellowstone grizzlies protections. From the Missoulian:

Christensen found the plan “arbitrary and capricious” on four points:

  • inadequate explanations of how handing bears over to state management and hunting would ensure the bears’ continued survival,
  • how delisting grizzlies in one recovery area might affect five other recovery populations,
  • whether the Yellowstone grizzlies were too isolated to provide for genetic diversity,
  • and whether the service had done a required comprehensive analysis of its delisting plan on the bears.

One part of Christensen’s decision that was not appealed: the contention that state agencies were not prepared to manage the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzlies. Instead of implementing an overall management plan that also examined the effect of delisting on nearby grizzly populations, Idaho and Wyoming authorized Yellowstone grizzly hunts in a somewhat rushed fashion–hunts that were halted by Christensen’s decision.

This is just one step in a long appeals process that could take upwards of two years. However, instead of waiting just for the legal process to unwind, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a parallel track that generates a new delisting plan that addresses Christensen’s concerns. So nothing will be resolved any time soon.

Image of Yellowstone grizzly courtesy National Park Service.

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