Read the original article by Michael Wright at bozemandailychronicle.com here.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that restored protections for the grizzly bear population in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Federal attorneys filed a notice of appeal on Friday morning signaling that the government would ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen’s September ruling that reversed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s removal of Endangered Species Act protections from the Yellowstone bears in 2017.
While federal officials believe the Yellowstone grizzly population had recovered, Christensen sided with conservation and tribal organizations that argued the animals still faced significant threats. The judge also found that the agency erred in pulling protections for one population without regard for the recovery of other grizzly populations in the Lower 48 states.
The states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, which assumed management of the bears upon delisting, also filed notices of appeal this week. Montana was the last of the three to file a notice, doing so midday Friday.
In a news release, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock called for the removal of the protections.
“With grizzly bear recovery goals met in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the safeguards in place to ensure healthy populations will persist, it’s time to hand over management to the states,” Bullock said.
Several other groups that intervened on the federal defendants’ behalf have filed notices as well.
The conservation and tribal organizations that challenged the delisting will fight against the appeal, said Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Rather than create a plan to truly recover grizzlies in the West, the Trump administration wants to spend more time and money in court,” Santarsiere said. “Yellowstone’s beloved grizzly bears deserve better, and we’re prepared to fight vigorously to defend the court’s determination that grizzly bears still need federal protection.”
Grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states were first listed as threatened under the law in 1975, when the population in Yellowstone was estimated at fewer than 150. Recent estimates put the population’s number at about 700.
Federal officials consider the recovery a conservation success and believe it’s time to pull the protections. Removing the protections in 2017 ceded management authority to the states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana and opened the door for potential trophy hunts. While Montana declined to plan a hunt, Idaho and Wyoming planned hunts that would have allowed the take of up to 23 bears this fall.
Christensen’s ruling eliminated the possibility of a hunting season for this year and returned protections to the bears.
The 2017 delisting was the agency’s second attempt in a decade. A 2007 delisting was also reversed by a federal judge who concluded the government needed to study the impact of the decline in whitebark pine seeds on the bears. The seeds are a key food source for grizzlies.
Federal scientists studied the decline and found that bears were shifting to more meat-based diets — a shift bear advocates say causes more frequent conflicts between grizzlies and humans, which often result in bears being killed.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team has documented at least 65 grizzly bear deaths in the Yellowstone ecosystem this year, according to its website.