Outdoors Blog

Court vacates Yellowstone grizzly bear decision, prevents hunts in Idaho and Wyoming

Idaho and Wyoming won’t be hunting grizzly bears this fall.

A U.S. District Court judge on Monday vacated the federal government’s decision to delist endangered grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The decision by Dana Christensen, based in Missoula, Mont., restores Endangered Species Act protections for the famed grizzly bears in the region, which includes a portion of eastern Idaho.

Christensen ruled in favor of the plaintiffs who challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision on both primary points in the lawsuit:

The Fish and Wildlife Service should have considered the impact of delisting on the other grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states, Christensen ruled. “It is illogical for the Service to determine that, because the populations have not interbred for many generations — making them biologically distinct from one another — it is appropriate, without further analysis, to reduce the chance that they will interbreed in the future,” he wrote. “The ESA does not permit the Service to use the distinct population segment designation to circumvent analysis of a species’ overall well-being.”

And the Fish and Wildlife Service “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in its delisting process, he ruled. The primary issue was a concession made to the states on how the grizzly population would be estimated. “The court does not question the commitment of the Service and each of the states to continued grizzly recovery; however, the general good intentions of the parties do not override the ESA’s mandate that decisions be made in accordance with the best available science,” Christensen wrote.

“The importance of today’s ruling cannot be overstated: the very bears essential to achieve connectivity between still-struggling, isolated grizzly populations would have died at the hands of trophy hunters. Now, not only do the Yellowstone region’s bears have a fighting chance, so too do grizzlies across the lower 48,” Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “We are gratified the court saw the numerous flaws in the Service’s decision.”

The federal government tried to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies in 2007. That decision was vacated in 2009. The Service published its latest final rule delisting Yellowstone grizzlies June 30, 2017.

Idaho and Wyoming planned grizzly hunts for the 2018 season, which would have been the first such hunts in the Lower 48 in decades. Idaho was allocated one bear and sold a single tag. However, Christensen issued a temporary restraining order Aug. 30 to prevent those hunts from beginning. Idaho’s hunt was set to start Sept. 1.