Grizzly hunt in Wyoming suspended for good
WYOMING – A decision by a federal court judge in Missoula, Mont., Monday removed supervision of the Yellowstone grizzly bear from state administration and restored Endangered Species Act protection.
In a swift reaction, Wyoming officials, who had been planning the first legal hunt of the bear in more than 40 years criticized the announcement by Judge Dana Christensen.
“I am disappointed with yesterday’s decision,” Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement released Tuesday.
“Grizzly bear recovery should be viewed as a conservation success story. Due to Wyoming’s investment of approximately $50 million for recovery and management, grizzly bears have exceeded every scientifically established recovery criteria in the GYE since 2003,” Mead added. Numbers have risen from as few as 136 bears when they were listed in 1975, to more than 700 today.
“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.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in a statement released Tuesday, “Wildlife experts and federal officials have agreed that the grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region have been fully recovered for years. It is disappointing that the state of Wyoming and U.S. Fish and Wildlife services have once again seen their well-researched attempts to delist a recovered species struck down by a federal judge. As the grizzly bear population has increased in Wyoming, so has the danger to livestock, property and humans. That is why it was so important that management of the species be in the hands of the state. I hope that a quick resolution to keep the Yellowstone grizzly bears delisted can be implemented.”
Christensen’s decision followed an Aug. 30 hearing where six consolidated lawsuits protested the original delisting order and the proposed Wyoming hunt, scheduled to begin in stages Sept. 1 and Sept. 15. Christensen had issued two temporary restraining orders of two weeks each to delay the planned limited hunts which would have allowed for up to 11 bears to be harvested inside the Demographic Monitoring Area and 11 outside that zone.
The judge’s ruling essentially declares that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to say the grizzly bear is a recovered species. The action revokes the powers given to Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to govern the bear’s situation that were announced in June of 2017 and officially turned over at the end of July of last year. It also wipes out any chance of a hunt in Wyoming and the other states for the foreseeable future.
Scott Talbott, director of Wyoming Game and Fish, also felt the judge’s ruling was a bad choice.
“This is unfortunate,” Talbott said. “Game and Fish is a strong proponent of all wildlife management being led by people who live in this state and having management decisions made at the local level.”
Conservation groups, which joined with Native American tribes and organizations who argued that hunting bears would violate their religious freedoms and tribal sovereignty, were excited by the court ruling.
Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies added, “... this incredible animal deserves better from humans than a rush to the taxidermist.”
Game and Fish suspended its planned grizzly bear hunting season earlier this week.
With the ruling, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department must determine the best way to refund the more than $35,000 application fees paid by more than 7,000 applications. The high number was in response to a group organized in Jackson called “Shoot them with a camera, not a gun.” The organization spread quickly across the country encouraged people who opposed to the hunt to apply for a tag and use it to photograph the bears instead of hunt them.