Ursus arctos horribilis, also known as the mainland American grizzly bear. (Hans Veth/Unsplash)

MISSOULA, Mont. — A federal judge ruled Monday to return the Yellowstone grizzly bear to the endangered species list, ending a year of uncertainty after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the bear in 2017.

“Bears are now protected again,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney for Western Environmental Law Center, one of the nearly 30 plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the federal government aimed at protecting grizzly bears.

In an Aug. 30 ruling, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen delayed a planned hunt of up to 22 grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho outside the protection of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Christensen extended that delay another two weeks on Sept. 13.

Christensen’s ruling Monday cancels the hunt indefinitely.

Bishop said Christensen was under pressure to rule before the hunt began on Sept. 27. Given that short time frame, Christiansen addressed just three of the approximately 20 issues the plaintiffs raised in the case.

“But a win’s a win,” Bishop said. “I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Matt Bishop

Bishop said he wouldn’t be surprised if the federal government, or one of the intervening parties, appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The key argument plaintiffs presented during oral argument in August was that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally delisted the Greater Yellowstone area’s 690 grizzlies without addressing the impact that decision would have on the survival of the species in its few other habitats in the Lower 48.

“The recovery of those populations depends heavily on inter-population connectivity and genetic exchange. Under the Trump administration’s plan, dispersing grizzlies essential to species recovery would have to pass through a killing zone outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks where Wyoming and Idaho rushed to approve trophy hunts,” a Western Environmental Law Center press release stated Monday.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland said in a statement that Christensen’s ruling means management of grizzly bears returns to the federal government.

“We will work with the state and tribes to ensure that this transition proceeds in accordance with the court’s order,” Strickland said.

This story was originally published by the Montana Free Press and republished here with permission.

Hunter Pauli is a Seattle-born, Missoula-based freelance investigative reporter and graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.

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  1. Andrew Reichart, you are not stradding the fence on this. We can have both trophy hunts and still achieve the goals of longterm surivival, sustainability, and expansion of Grizzly bears in western America ( all of it ). It just won’t be the States ion charge of it. In fact, the State wildlife agencies are the LAST people I want in charge of specie recovery now and a century from now.

    No one I know who is up to speed on most of the issues about Griz would disagree much if at all that there are not enough bears extant to support hunts. Even before being delisted and handed over to the States, Wyoming and USF&WS . working together were eradicating 45-60 bear annually for a variety of reasons, none killed by a licensed guided hunter. Livestock conflict, self-defense, property damage, or just being in the ” worng ” place, bears get shot. MEanwhile, without even being given delistment authority over bears, Wyoming Game and Fish spent $ 1.7 million in FY2017 ” managing” grizzlies. ( a typical sum in recent budget years) . If all the 22 planned hunts had gone forth, revenue from licenses to Wyoming would have struggled to reach $ 25,000 … not even 2 percent of cost.

    So— if Wyoming want no more than ~600 bears inside it’s made-up Zoo Zone, cannot go below 500 bears without having the beast RE-listed, and feels there are 750 bears all around, there there are roughly 150 bears available for seed stock even aftyer ten bears are ” conserved” from the 600 bear core .

    That is why the Feds cannot hand the bear over to the States for full management, only partial control. Only the Feds can move bears from Wapiti Valley Wyoming west of me over the Continental Divide to central Idaho, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Lower 48 and prime griz habitat , but currently devoid of bears.

    We have plenty of bears. They are just in the wrong places at the moment. allowing some hunting would have the wholly desireable effect of silencing the critics, That’s a good thing, at a good price. But at the end of the day it’s long past time to stock the Rockies with griz.
    Move, not remove.

    Contrary to what bombasts like Sen. John Barrasso would have us believe, Judge Christensen did inf act rule scientifically and not politically . Barrasso has that exactly backwards. I’m amazed how little biological science a graduate from Georgetown Medicalwith an M.D. degree is demonstrating towards endangered species.

    We need some helicopters. To Move , not remove .

  2. This may seem like I’m straddling the fence here, but I am for the Grizzly hunt, but I fully support Judge Christensen’s ruling. The endangered species act was established for a reason. The U.S. Wildlife service did not do what the act says they have to do to delist a species. Of the 5 items they must prove they did maybe two and a half, I’m not sure if it was Mr. Zink or Mr. Trump, but she was spot on in her ruling. I am truly happy to see some one holding federal agencies to the law that they are supposed to enforce. The U.S. Wildlife service should be ashamed of the work product they put out in this instance. As for the argument that the states are ill equipped to handle the issue at hand that is a poor statement at best. As for our lovely representatives in Washington who now think the Endangered species act should be rewritten we all need to let them know what we think of that,