Judge’s ruling puts Yellowstone grizzlies back on endangered list

Grizzlies have attacked at least three others in the western U.S. this spring. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)

After twice delaying a decision on the fate of Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear hunting – and hunts in Wyoming and Idaho – U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ruled this week that grizzlies will be returned to the Endangered Species list, restoring federal protections for the animals and thus nixing hunts in the two states and beyond.

In the ruling, filed Monday in Montana, Christensen said grizzlies weren’t sufficiently recovered to sustain hunting, pointing out an estimated 50,000 bears once roamed the contiguous states.

Before Monday’s ruling, Wyoming and Idaho planned to let hunters kill up to 23 grizzlies this fall in the lower 48 states’ first grizzly hunt in almost three decades. Those hunts were scheduled to open Sept. 1, but were on hold after Christensen’s first delay order, which came two days before that anticipated opener.

“We are highly disappointed with this decision,” Kyle Weaver, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO, said in a news release. “Once again we see that extreme environmental groups continue to clog up the delisting process at a time when we should be celebrating the recovery of grizzlies in the region. Scientists gathered data and population numbers that show grizzlies in the region surpassed all recovery criteria and are recovered. This ruling bolsters the case for Congress to update the Endangered Species Act.”

This follows a 2007 decision by the Department of Interior (DOI) to delist Yellowstone grizzlies, a decision that was also litigated by environmental groups and overturned by the federal courts.

“Despite this ruling, the basic facts remain the same: grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area have recovered, and no longer meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the ESA and should be rightfully returned to state management,” said Evan Heusinkveld, Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation president and CEO. “This ruling is just another example of why we need comprehensive reforms to the way we manage ESA-listed species in this country. We are evaluating all of our legal options to appeal this ruling.”

The DOI announced the removal of Yellowstone area grizzlies, numbering more than 700, from the endangered species list in 2017 based on sound science and millions of hunter dollars spent on researching and studying the bears, according to the RMEF release. Idaho and Wyoming later announced intentions to hold conservative management hunts in the fall of 2018.

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