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The Legal Fight For Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bears
The Latest
  • On Jul. 8, 2020, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Montana District Court’s opinion that reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bear population.
  • The decision spares the grizzlies from plans for trophy hunts in the states of Wyoming and Idaho.
  • Earthjustice, representing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Parks Conservation Association, argued for restoring protections to Yellowstone grizzly bears. Oral arguments have been delivered virtually two months earlier, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Read the court ruling:
What you need to know:
1
Yellowstone's grizzly bears are at risk of extinction. One of the last strongholds for grizzlies is Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding public land. This unique region is one of the few remaining great ecosystems of the world.
Chris Jordan-Bloch & Martin Do Nascimento / Earthjustice
“Earthjustice takes very seriously our role as the last line of defense. And we intend to make sure the government takes seriously its role in that capacity as well.” Timothy Preso, Earthjustice's lead attorney on the lawsuit, explains the legal issues.
2
In defiance of the best available science, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service stripped Yellowstone's grizzly bears of Endangered Species Act protections. The 2017 decision opened the door for grizzlies to be legally trophy hunted in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, when the bears cross the invisible boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.
3
Earthjustice filed an immediate legal challenge in federal court. Bozeman-based attorney Timothy Preso is the lead attorney representing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Parks Conservation Association in the lawsuit.
Chris Jordan-Bloch & Martin Do Nascimento / Earthjustice
“We need this wildness more than we will ever know.” Writer Doug Peacock, a declarant on the lawsuit, tells his story of finding refuge in the American wilderness and the humility brought by the great bears.
4
The lawsuit asked the court to restore federal protections for the grizzlies. The lawsuit challenges the agency's decision on the basis that it violates the Endangered Species Act. The Act is one of the most effective environmental laws ever enacted. In its four decades, 99% of species protected under the law have survived. (More details on the lawsuit.)
5
Trophy hunts in Wyoming and Idaho, scheduled to begin Sept. 1, 2018, were temporarily halted at the 11th-hour by the court. The hunts represent a major new threat to the grizzlies’ survival and would be the first in 40 years. Following the Aug. 30, 2018, court hearing, Earthjustice filed a request for a temporary restraining order to stop the hunts, as the court decides the outcome of the legal challenge. Hours later, Judge Christensen granted the request, ordering the trophy hunts to be halted for 14 days.
Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
A recap of the events in court on Aug. 30, 2018.
6
Weeks later, the court ruled, finding the Trump administration's actions to be illegal, and restoring federal protections to Yellowstone's grizzly bears. Two years later, the decision is affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — again sparing the bears from plans for trophy hunts. The decision spared the grizzlies from a planned trophy hunt scheduled to begin this fall in Wyoming and Idaho. “This is a victory for the bears and for people from all walks of life who come to this region to see the grizzly in its natural place in the world,” said Timothy Preso, attorney at Earthjustice, who argued the case. An appeal of the ruling was heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which ruled to uphold endangered species protections for the grizzlies.(More details.)
7
Earthjustice has worked for decades to safeguard Yellowstone’s grizzlies, including challenging an attempt in 2007 to remove federal protections. Earthjustice attorneys methodically documented the decline of whitebark pine trees and demonstrated the importance of the food source to the grizzlies, using the government's own studies. The work successfully reoriented the legal argument to comport with biological facts. (More details.)
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The earth needs a good lawyer. With 140 environmental attorneys across the country, Earthjustice advances the right to a healthy environment for all. On behalf of public-interest clients across the country, our attorneys have filed more than one hundred lawsuits against the Trump administration's attempts to ignore environmental laws and deny protections to the American public. The law is on our side.
© Thomas D. Mangelsen
“Grizzlies can co-exist peacefully with people. But we have to be tolerant ourselves, just as they are tolerant.” Photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen tells the story of famed matriarch Grizzly 399. Mangelsen has drawn the eighth position (from more than 7,000 entrants) on Wyoming's grizzly hunt Issuance List. He intends to spend his full allotted time in the field — photographing the bears, rather than hunting them.
Media Inquiries

Maggie Caldwell
via Twitter: @mmlcaldwell
via email: mcaldwell@earthjustice.org