On September 24th, a Montana federal district court vacated the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) rule delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bears. The court’s ruling means that the GYE grizzly bear population returns to threatened status and that Wyoming and Idaho must cancel their planned grizzly bear hunts. It also means that this population will continue being managed by the federal government, rather than the state agencies that have worked diligently with stakeholders to recover and conserve this population.
“SCI views the recovery of the GYE grizzly bears as a conservation success story, and since at least 2006 has advocated for the delisting of GYE grizzly bears from the threatened species list,” said SCI President Paul Babaz. “Success should lead to movement forward—state management and well-regulated hunts—not needlessly expending federal resources on a population that has been recovered for more than a decade.”
In 2007, the Service first delisted the GYE population and were soon after sued in federal court. SCI joined the suit as an intervenor to defend the delisting. After the district court invalidated the delisting, SCI, along with the other defendants, appealed the ruling. Though SCI and the other defendants and defendant-intervenors successfully defeated significant claims brought by anti-hunting groups, the appellate court affirmed one aspect of the ruling, and the grizzly remained on the threatened species list.
The FWS proposed removing the GYE population of bears from federal ESA protection in March of 2016. SCI confirmed that its members would participate in any future hunts in the GYE in Idaho, Montana and/or Wyoming, and filed two sets of comments in support of the proposed delisting because the population had long met all recovery goals.
Consistent with comments SCI submitted that January, the FWS again delisted grizzly bears in June 2017. Six lawsuits challenged that delisting, and SCI intervened and filed legal briefs with the court. SCI’s briefs addressed several substantive legal and scientific issues, including the FWS’s delisting authority, the positive role of hunting, and the soundness of the science behind the delisting.
In August 2018, the court held a hearing on the delisting. Attorneys for the FWS; the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana; and several non-governmental organizations including SCI and the NRA, made strong arguments in defense of the delisting and the use of hunting as a grizzly bear management tool. The Montana district court judge issued two, 14-day temporary restraining orders against hunts planned by Wyoming and Idaho.
The court ultimately invalidated the delisting in part on its view that the FWS did not adequately consider the impact of the GYE grizzly bear delisting on other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states. The court also disagreed with the FWS’s conclusion regarding the threat posed by GYE population’s relative genetic isolation. The court remanded the rule back to the FWS.
The defendants and defendant-intervenors, including SCI and the NRA, have 60 days from the date that the court issues its final order to decide whether to appeal the decision. SCI and the NRA will consult with the other parties, weigh their options, and decide the best next steps as soon as possible.