Judge’s Yellowstone grizzly ruling is troubling

The Yellowstone region of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has more than 700 bears. Attacks on humans are relatively rare but increased in recent decades as the grizzly population grew. (Photo by Bob Drieslein)

I’ve never been to Yellowstone, and my wallet isn’t deep enough to afford a grizzly hunt. But that doesn’t mean a politically fueled decision recently made about bears living in and around the national park doesn’t affect me as a hunter. In fact, it kind of impacts all of us.

On Sept. 24, U.S. District Court judge Dana Christensen reinstated federal protections on the Yellowstone grizzly, which was delisted as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017.

Following delisting, several extreme environmental groups sued the federal service in an attempt to block planned management hunts in Idaho and Wyoming — where an allocation of 22 tags would have helped control an expanding grizzly population estimated at nearly 700 bears.

The judge’s decision to place the bears back on the protected species list takes the management power out of the states’ hands and restores it to federal jurisdiction, meaning the game agencies no longer have the ability to hold hunts for the large predators.

In a recent story by the Washington Post, a senior rep from the Sierra Club — one of the groups that filed suit — was quoted saying, “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. Changing food sources, isolation, inadequate state management plans and other threats that grizzly bears continue to face warrant strong protections until they reach full recovery.”

However, the biologists charged with making that determination have already declared the population fully recovered — thus the delisting last year.

In the same Washington Post article, the Fish and Wildlife Service said, “We stand behind our finding that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear is biologically recovered and no longer requires protection … Our determination was based on our rigorous interpretation of the law and is supported by the best available science and a comprehensive conservation strategy developed with our federal, state and tribal partners.”

So why are the bears being placed back on the list? The judge claims his rationale is based on the Yellowstone grizzly’s isolation from other strains of grizzlies, lacking genetic diversity, therefore putting its future in peril.

That decision prompted backlash from hunter-conservation groups that know how important managed hunting is to preserving the viability of a species, under the North American conservation model.

Both the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, as well as the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, released official statements sharing their disapproval for Judge Christensen’s ruling.

“We are highly disappointed with this decision,” said Kyle Weaver, elk foundation president and CEO. “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 most recent ruling follows a decision to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in 2007, which 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 same situation is taking place in the northern Rockies, where the wolf population has exceeded its minimum recovery goals by 200-400 percent, yet special interest groups have interceded, complicating the management plans in the states affected by the animals’ status.

“State-based management of wildlife is a key facet of the North American Wildlife Conservation model. That is why the most healthy and robust wildlife populations in the world are found in North America,” Weaver said. “Grizzlies, like elk, wolves, deer and all other wildlife, should be managed by the states for their overall betterment. This ruling thoroughly frustrates that process.”

Though these situations are taking place in completely different areas of the country, all sportsmen should be wary of rulings that potentially impact our hunting freedoms.

I’m all for sound science and conservation, but it troubles me to discover political pressures could be steering our decision-makers away from a proven conservation model utilizing hunting as a responsible means of population management.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Pennsylvania – Tyler Frantz

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