Yellowstone Grizzlies back on the endangered species list
A ruling has been enforced to stop trophy hunts for grizzly bears. The hunt was scheduled for September 1 in the greater Yellowstone area. Many thanks to the efforts by the Crow Indian Tribe and a U.S. District Court ruling found in support of conservation groups and first nations tribes; sparing 23 grizzly bears.
This ruling is a win wrapped up in an even bigger success. The decision will protect the 700-1,000 grizzlies of Yellowstone under the Endangered Species Act.
“Arbitrarily and capriciously,” is how Judge Dana Christensen described the United States Fish and Wildlife Service when it delisted the Yellowstone grizzly last year.
“By delisting the Greater Yellowstone grizzly without analyzing how delisting would affect the remaining members of the lower-38 grizzly designation the USFWS failed to consider how reduced protections in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem would impact the other grizzly populations,” he wrote in his 48-page ruling.
If the highly controversial hunt were to have gone as scheduled, 23 hunters who drew tags, from Wyoming and Idaho, would have had permissions to kill a grizzly between September 1 and mid-November.
“Although this order may have impacts throughout the 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,” wrote Christensen.
The USFWS not only exceeded its authority but it did not apply the optimal science to estimate the size of the population (bears are tough to count, and the USFWS has long struggled with this). Also, the USFWS did not logically address the long-term survival of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly when it delisted the island-population of bears. The Grizzlies expectancy depends on the introduction of new genetic material. Yellowstone’s grizzlies have not yet moved outside of the ecosystem’s boundaries to breed with bears farther north, limited by roads and cities.
The delisting and relisting of the Yellowstone grizzly have been an issue for over a decade. In 2007, the Yellowstone grizzly had been removed from the Endangered Species list. However, many activist groups successfully sued the USFW. Two years later in 2009, the bears were back on the list.
The lower 48 grizzly bear’s first appearance under the Endangered Species Act came in 1975. In the 1990s, wildlife managers split the bear into five “distinct population segments” for recovery purposes–Yellowstone, the North Cascades, Northern Continental Divide, Bitterroot, and Selkirk/Cabinet-Yaak. There is a conservation plan for each group. The USFWS has been using these categories as a tool for delisting the population groups one by one, this was never done before and led many people to question its legality (a District Court ruling in 2017 with Great Lakes gray wolf set a standard that it is, indeed, illegal).
Federal agents have been eager to use the Yellowstone grizzly bear’s story as a way to promote the Endangered Species Act. However, the USFWS is unable to prove any successful recovery story of any species. The USFWS is in danger of losing funding for the Act and is already under public scrutiny.
In the middle of all this; activist and environmental groups are realizing that states are gaining more ground on the right to manage its wildlife without federal interference. If states gain more power of controlling its wildlife, trophy hunts could become more popular for creating state revenue. States also worry about the number of grizzlies roaming the woods and how that affects the well-being of humans.
With that, experts fear the USFWS haven’t done it’s due diligence to consider what makes grizzlies thrive in other areas. Judge Christensen noted there were once 50,000 grizzlies living in America and it would be “simplistic at best and disingenuous at work” to no consider the populations of the grizzlies outside of Yellowstone when considering removing bears from federal protection.
Now, fewer than 1,200 grizzlies live outside of Yellowstone, most remaining live in the Northern Continental Divide group in Montana. The four other distinct population groups have not seemed improvement since the 1970s, and the North Cascade group is believed to have no grizzlies left.
Eventually, this ruling will have severe implications for all grizzly populations and possibly the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS has been working towards delisting the Northern Continental Divide grizzlies. However, this ruling will stall those plans. The Trump Administration has been pushing towards weakening the ESA through a slew of House bills within the past years. This ruling could strengthen arguments that the ESA isn’t doing its job at recovering species.
“The Department of the Interior can now go back to the drawing board to hopefully consider what research, such as long-term impacts of climate change on the population, must be considered to ensure a healthy long-term future for Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies,” Bart Melton, Northern Rockies regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said. The USFWS can appeal in the ensuing months.