Griz hunt is off, bears back on Endangered Species List

WYOMING – A federal judge returned grizzly bears to Endanger Species Act protection, blocking the first Wyoming hunt of the animal in more than three decades.

In his ruling, US District Judge Dana Christensen stated:

US District Judge Dana L. Christensen.

“The Court is aware of the high level of public interest in this case, as well as the strong feelings the grizzly bear evokes in individuals, from ranchers and big game hunters to conservationists and animal rights activists. The policy implications of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly delisting are significant, but they cannot affect the Court’s disposition. Although this Order may have impacts throughout grizzly country and beyond, this case is not about the ethics of hunting, and it is not about solving human- or livestock-grizzly conflicts as a practical or philosophical matter. These issues are not before the Court. This Court’s review, constrained by the Constitution and the laws enacted by Congress, is limited to answering a yes-or-no question: Did the United States Fish and Wildlife Service exceed its legal authority when it delisted the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear?”

In the 48-page ruling, Judge Christensen said the USFWS determination that the grizzly was ready to come off federal protection was “arbitrary and capricious because it is both illogical and inconsistent with the cautious approach demanded by the ESA (Endangered Species Act).”

Christensen added that USFWS, in analyzing threats to the Yellowstone bears, failed to account for how delisting the 750 Yellowstone-area bears could affect the estimated 1,200 in five other recovery area. Christensen also said the USFWS failed to prove to him that genetic diversity would be viable with 750 Yellowstone-area bears.

Wyoming Game and Fish expressed disappointment in the ruling. They are referring all questions to the state Attorney General’s Office.

“This is unfortunate. Game and Fish is a strong proponent of all wildlife management being led by people who live in this state and having management decisions made at the local level,” said Scott Talbott, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Governor Matt Mead added, “I am disappointed with today’s decision. Grizzly bear recovery should be viewed as a conservation success story. Due to Wyoming’s investment of approximately $50 million for recovery and management, grizzly bears have exceeded every scientifically established recovery criteria in the GYE since 2003. Numbers have risen from as few as 136 bears when they were listed in 1975, to more than 700 today.

“Biologists correctly determined grizzly bears no longer needed ESA protections,” Mead went on. “The decision to return grizzly bears to the list of threatened and endangered species is further evidence that the ESA is not working as its drafters intended. Congress should modernize the ESA so we can celebrate successes and focus our efforts on species in need.”

US Senator Mike Enzi also expressed his dismay at the ruling.

“Wildlife experts and federal officials have agreed that the grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region have been fully recovered for years. It is disappointing that the state of Wyoming and U.S. Fish and Wildlife services have once again seen their well-researched attempts to delist a recovered species struck down by a federal judge. As the grizzly bear population has increased in Wyoming, so has the danger to livestock, property and humans. That is why it was so important that management of the species be in the hands of the state. I hope that a quick resolution to keep the Yellowstone grizzly bears delisted can be implemented,” Enzi said.

Christensen twice suspended planned grizzly hunts in Wyoming and Idaho with temporary restraining orders. Today’s decision officially puts off the 2018 hunt of grizzly in Wyoming.

Read the full Grizzly bear ruling.

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