It is a question of whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exceeded its legal authority when it delisted grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Chief U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred by delisting grizzly bears around the Yellowstone National Park as endangered. Judge Christensen reversed the Service’s June 2017 policy change that allowed for the killing of grizzlies outside the park.

Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service removed grizzly bears from the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act. The Service said the bears within and around Yellowstone park were fully restored and no longer in need of legal protections. This was after the Service had effectively differentiated the grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park from those in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem numbered between 136 to 312 in 1975, but the population has risen to about 700 today. Even in the face of this, grizzly bears remain listed as threatened in the lower 48 states.

Christensen Said the Service Exceeded Its Legal Authority by Delisting Grizzly Bears as Threatened

Following the Fish and Wildlife Service’ delisting of grizzlies as endangered species, the three states surrounding Yellowstone – Montana, Wyoming and Idaho – immediately approved the killing of bears. The states however planned to regulate the bear hunting season by ratifying the numbers of grizzlies that could be killed.

This development did not go unchallenged. Over 20 lawsuits were filed to stop the bear hunting and restore protections to grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act. Judge Christensen signed an injunction on August 30 and another on September 13 to vacate the Trump administration’s permission to kill bears.

In his order, Christensen said the court is not concerned about the ethics of bear hunting or the conflicts between bears and humans and livestock. It is a question of whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exceeded its legal authority when it delisted grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. And with several analyses, the judge found the Service exceeded its authority in delisting the bears.

According to Christensen, the Service failed to consider how killing bears in the ecosystem would impact the remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. The judge established that removing protections on the bears would negatively impact remaining bear populations in the Northern Rockies ecosystem.

Delisting Grizzly Bears Is “Arbitrary and Capricious” As well As Illogical and Inconsistent

“The service has failed to demonstrate that genetic diversity within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, long-recognized as a threat to the Greater Yellowstone grizzly’s continued survival, has become a non-issue,” Christensen said. “The service’s determination is arbitrary and capricious because it is both illogical and inconsistent with the cautious approach demanded by the ESA.”

Some of those that brought lawsuits against delisting grizzly bears as threatened include the Crow Indian Tribe, the Humane Society of the United States, Wildearth Guardians, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and Alliance for the Wild Rockies. The Western Environmental Law Center also objected to the delisting.

Some of those that supported the delisting included the Wyoming Farm Bureau, the state of Montana, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation among others. Greg Sheehan, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also supported the killing of grizzly bears, together with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

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