Yellowstone Grizzlies Return to Endangered Species Protection

Yellowstone Grizzlies Return to Endangered Species Protection

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently published a notice in the Federal Register that added the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bear back to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list as a threatened species, effective immediately.

The reason for this move by the USFWS goes back to 2017 when animal rights and anti-hunting groups filed suit against its 2016 plan to delist the GYE (Montana/Wyoming/Idaho) grizzly bear population. USFWS research showed a thriving bear population, one that had grown far beyond ESA requirements for recovery. But the antis had other plans, filed suit and, in 2018, Reuters reported, “U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana, sided with the groups, ruling last September that the agency [USFWS] had overstepped its authority and had failed to apply the best available science in its evaluation, including ongoing threats to the bears.”

Yet the USFWS believed it had used the “best scientific and commercial data” when it de-listed the Yellowstone grizzlies, according to a statement released by the agency when the Federal notice was posted.

The GYE grizzly bear situation is, unfortunately, an ongoing saga. Earlier this year, an article reported, “As of 2016, [GYE grizzlies] totaled more than 700—a number once thought impossible—and now are so densely populated in the GYE that they have expanded their wilderness range and in some areas are bordering rural farm/ranch lands. USFWS’ first attempt at delisting the recovered species was in 2007. Anti-hunting extremist groups mobilized, sued the federal government and got the bear re-listed to keep its management under federal government control. When the USFWS gave its proposed removal another go in 2016, instead of celebrating the species’ recovery—which at that point marked a 41-year conservation success story spearheaded in part by hunters—the antis dug in their heels yet again.”

Dug in via litigation. And when the anti’s prevailed through Judge Christensen’s ruling last year, the USFWS appealed the case. As another article noted at the time, the judge had bought into the animal rights extremists’ arguments that the bears were still very much threatened, even though “the various federal and state agencies involved in grizzly bear management had concluded the big bears were fully recovered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—so much so that a limited, sustainable hunt was planned.”

The National Rifle Association and Safari Club International also entered into the USFWS’ appeals process as “NGO Intervenors.”

The appeals case is still in the court system, but the USFWS had to return the GYE grizzly bears back on the ESA list following Judge Christensen’s September 2018 ruling.

Where to now? 

Well, if Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has her way, the GYE will have ESA protections removed via Congressional action.

In a statement following the re-listing of the bears, Cheney argued, “The court-ordered relisting of the grizzly was not based on science or facts, but was rather the result of excessive litigation pursued by radical environmentalists…The thriving grizzly population within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem should be celebrated as a conservation success, with Wyoming investing significant resources in grizzly bear recovery and management since 2003,” according to The Hill.

Cheney vowed to work with her Congressional colleagues to remove the ESA status of the GYE bears, emphasizing the need to “ensure proper management of the wildlife in our state and prevent further federal overreach into our daily lives.”

Stay tuned. It sounds like the fight over this issue is only beginning.

About the Author:
Brian McCombie is a field editor and editorial contributor for the NRA's American Hunter. He writes about firearms and gear for the NRA's Shooting Illustrated website, as well as handling public relations and marketing for companies and manufacturers in the shooting sports industry. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10 mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with Squinchy, the orange tabby cat.

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