MISSOULA – A U.S. District Court judge has vacated a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which removed protections for grizzly bears living outside Yellowstone National Park.
The decision by Judge Dana Christensen stops plans by Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunts this fall.
Earlier this month,attorneys for tribes and conservation groups asked Judge Christensen to overturn last year’s decision by USFWS to no longer consider the bears as a “threatened species”, removing them from the Endangered Species List. The agency, and wildlife agencies in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, argued the bears had recovered to the point that the grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem no longer warranted special protection.
But in his final ruling Monday, Christensen ruled that USFWS had “failed to logically support its conclusion that the current Greater Yellowstone population is not threatened by its isolation.” Instead, he said the Service “failed to make a reasoned decision”, as required by law, that changing the protections for bears around Yellowstone wouldn’t also impact grizzlies in other areas, like the Northern Continental Divide.
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso said the plaintiffs were especially pleased to have stopped hunts that could have resulted in up to 23 grizzlies being killed by hunters this fall.
“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 Preso.
It’s not known yet whether the Fish and Wildlife Service will appeal Christensen’s ruling.
Idaho and Wyoming had planned grizzly hunts this fall, hunts that were stopped when Christensen issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction following the hearing in early September. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks had opted to not allow a grizzly hunt this fall because of challenges in managing a limited hunt.
-Dennis Bragg reporting for MTN