Tribal, Conservation Groups Urge Court to Restore Endangered Species Protections for Yellowstone Grizzlies
Tribal and conservation interests today asked a federal judge to invalidate a government decision to strip the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bears of longstanding endangered species protections.
The coalition cited the recent reopening of public comment on the Yellowstone grizzly delisting rule as evidence the government did not complete its homework before removing important protections for this population of bears and opening the door to recreational trophy hunting of the iconic grizzly. In particular, the government failed to consider the impacts of its delisting decision on the opportunity for a broader recovery of grizzly bears in the lower-48 states.
“The time for taking public comment and considering all issues surrounding the removal of federal protections for Yellowstone grizzlies was before those protections were removed – not after the decision was finalized,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing the coalition. “The Yellowstone region’s grizzlies deserve better than to be subjected to trophy hunting based on a half-baked government decision.”
Today’s request for a summary judgment invalidating the Yellowstone grizzly delisting rule was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Parks Conservation Association.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the Yellowstone delisting rule in June 2017. But in December, the Service reopened public comment on the rule. The Service is asking the American people to weigh in on the impact of a recent court ruling that overturned a similar government effort to withdraw federal protections from the Western Great Lakes wolf population without addressing broader recovery of the species. The Service is now promising a new review of the Yellowstone grizzly delisting issue by March 31.
Despite reopening the decision for comment, the Service left the removal of Yellowstone grizzlies from the endangered species list in effect. That opens the door for Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana to plan for grizzly bear hunting seasons in the Yellowstone region, with Wyoming already taking steps toward developing a hunt that could begin later this year.
“This attempt by the Fish and Wildlife Service to reopen a public comment period and subsequently paper over its flawed delisting rule illustrates how politics has trumped science in regard to protecting Greater Yellowstone’s grizzly bears,” said Bonnie Rice, Senior Representative for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign in the Greater Yellowstone region. “The Service’s decision to remove endangered species protections for Yellowstone grizzlies was clearly premature. The delisting rule should be withdrawn until the Service can get it right and make a determination that passes legal and scientific muster.”
“The Trump administration is trying to put a band-aid on a gaping hole in its decision to strip protections from Yellowstone’s precious bears,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Grizzly bears occupy less than 5 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states, so they’re obviously nowhere near recovered. Attempting to delist the Yellowstone bears and expose them to trophy hunting without considering grizzlies’ poor status overall is simply ludicrous.”
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to withdraw the delisting while publicly questioning the validity of their own decision is a disservice to the American people. Ignoring important legal and scientific concerns underscores the Department of Interior’s willingness to jeopardize the long-term health of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park grizzlies” added Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone Program Manager for National Parks Conservation Association.
The coalition filed a lawsuit to challenge the Yellowstone grizzly delisting in August 2017 on the basis that the decision violates the Endangered Species Act. The coalition’s legal challenge takes issue with the Service’s evaluation of bear deaths following the bears’ recent shift to a more heavily meat-based diet following the loss of other foods. It also faults the agency for carving out and delisting the isolated Yellowstone grizzly population instead of focusing on a broader, more durable grizzly recovery in the West.