A federal judge on Monday reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the area around Yellowstone National Park, forcing Wyoming and Idaho to cancel plans for a brown bear hunt this fall.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in stripping the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bear population of protections last year, and that the agency had not considered the impact of the delisting on other grizzly populations.
The ruling is the latest salvo in a legal back and forth that has seen Greater Yellowstone’s grizzlies delisted and then relisted again in 10 years. It scraps what would have been the first grizzly season in Wyoming or Idaho in more than four decades. Wyoming was set to allow hunters to take up to 22 of the region’s 700 bears, while Idaho planned to issue a single tag.
In a press release, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead criticized Christensen’s decision, calling the grizzly’s recovery “a conservation success story.”
“Biologists correctly determined grizzly bears no longer needed ESA protections,” Mead said. “The decision to return grizzly bears to the list of threatened and endangered species is further evidence that the ESA is not working as its drafters intended.”
In response to Monday’s ruling, Wyoming representative Liz Cheney introduced a bill seeking to legislatively delist grizzlies. The state could also choose to appeal the decision.
Besides environmental organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity, the plaintiffs in the case included nine American Indian groups who argued that grizzlies hold special religious significance and that the groups were not consulted prior to the delisting.
In a statement, Lawrence Killsback, president of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, said that his tribe views the grizzly “as a relative entitled to our respect and protection from harm.”
“We have a responsibility to speak for the bears, who cannot speak for themselves, Killsback said. “Today we celebrate this victory and will continue to advocate on behalf of the Yellowstone grizzly bears until the population is recovered, including within the Tribe’s ancestral homeland in Montana and other states.”