Wildlife photographer Patricia Lavin captured this image of then 26-year-old Grizzly 399 in September 2022. (Patricia Lavin)

The state of Wyoming is going to court again over grizzly bears, this time because federal wildlife officials missed a deadline to decide whether they would pursue removing Endangered Species Act protections. 

State officials announced their petition in a cheeky press release this week, accusing the U.S. Department of Interior of “hibernating” on deadline. 

“The petition seeks to remedy the DOI’s inaction,” the statement from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office said. 

Gov. Mark Gordon speaks during a 2021 dedication ceremony for the Path of Honor Wind River Veterans Memorial. (Kirk Rasmussen/WyoFile)

Under federal policy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 12 months to respond to petitions seeking Endangered Species Act protections for species — or in this case, to relinquish those protections. Wyoming filed its 27-page petition, which calls for the Northern Rocky states to manage Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies, back in January 2022


Grizzlies have been delisted from the ESA twice before, in 2007 and 2017. Lawsuits from environmental advocacy groups successfully overturned those decisions both times, despite Wyoming’s opposition as an intervenor. 

Meanwhile, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly population has continued to swell — nearly doubling the 500-animal recovery goal — though federal scientists now say that the species is running out of room to expand

State officials have testified that they support using “whatever means is necessary” to obtain management authority over grizzlies, including by subverting the Endangered Species Act and gaining control through legislation. The Fish and Wildlife Service, meantime, has declared that it found Wyoming’s Jan. 2022 petition credible and would embark on a “comprehensive status review” — the analysis that’s supposed to be completed within a year. 

Why it matters 

Grizzly bear management is especially divisive because Ursus arctos horribilis is an emblem of the wild for many and its recovery is a noted conservation success story. The alpha omnivores also carry particular significance in some Native American cultures. Some representatives of the species are celebrated, while others are difficult to live with and even deadly

Wyoming sought to hunt grizzlies during the last tenure of state management. A renewed hunt is a near certainty if federal authorities approve the state’s petition to again remove ESA protections. This time, state wildlife managers would likely target triple the number of bruins than previously proposed hunts.

Who said what 

The state’s petition, filed May 24 in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, asks the court to order the U.S. Department of Interior to issue a final determination on Wyoming’s delisting petition.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has missed the required 12-month determination deadline, and it’s time for the agency to be held accountable,” Gordon said in a statement. 

Hilary Cooley, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator, listens in to a May 2023 meeting about Yellowstone-region grizzlies in Cody. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Meantime, federal wildlife managers have not given a firm update on their timeline. Hilary Cooley, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly recovery coordinator, spoke to the status of the federal government’s process at a May gathering of Yellowstone-area grizzly managers in Cody.

“We are updating all the data, all the science in our status assessment,” Cooley said. “Once we do that, we’ll send that out for peer-review.”

Next up 

If Fish and Wildlife Service’s 12-month review receives Wyoming’s grizzly petition favorably, then the agency would issue a proposed rule to delist grizzlies, currently classified as threatened under the ESA. A final rule — and multiple rounds of public comment — would also precede any potential grizzly bear jurisdiction shift.

Wyoming officials intend to speed that process up. 

Attorney General Bridget Hill, who signed the state’s petition, asked the court to give the Fish and Wildlife Service one month to decide whether to pursue delisting.

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. These killings r just discussing bc these agencies r to lazy to get control of these wildlife animals. When the situation gets out of hand they decide to kill our God’s wildlife. Hunting these animals isn’t the answer bc the knowledge of how to cure this or other decisions couldn’t be made. We r losing our wildlife little by little just like our population of wild horses. No one in govt has any ideas on how to cure this problem but kill every animal bc it’s just a problem to them. Grizzley & black bears deserve better without these hunters killing & slaughtering them for trophy’s nothing else. Very disappointed in this decision of killing our wildlife. Money is more important then the life of these animals on our earth who were here 1st before humans.

  2. The provisions of the Endangered Species Act havent been met. Pretty simple. They werent met when Wyoming tried to delist them twice before. The State of Wyoming should do more to meet the provisions instead of posturing for the ranchers and the “sportsmen” with guns.

  3. Always great reporting from Mike Koshmrl, but to nitpick a bit…I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the population has “continued to swell.” It has only swelled on paper because IGBST changed their counting method a few years ago. Using the same counting method, the population has been pretty much stable since around 2001 with a few ups and downs over the years.

    1. Thank you for the kind words and for sharing your thoughts, Sam. What you’re saying is true where they closely monitor grizzlies in the “demographic monitoring area,” but those counts do not include bears outside that zone. At last count, 40% of grizzly range was outside of the monitoring area. Those outskirt areas have become occupied largely in the last decade or so. Even though we don’t know the number and densities are lower, there’s likely hundreds of additional grizzlies outside of the zone where we know the numbers (and where they’ve been stagnant). This is what was going through my brain when I wrote, “Meanwhile, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly population has continued to swell …”

      I should have spelled it out better!!

  4. We’ve been fooled into thinking that the legislators, Governors, and FWP are striving for our best interests. Make no mistake that these entities are businesses that are primarily interested in their perpetual existence. Their best tool is to let people believe that legislation, FWP, Governors are the “experts” that decisions and actions are left to them. Theses cheerleaders if this barbaric activity lied to us and are backed up by our Government and FWP. Our wolves are being slaughtered and bears and mountain lions are being chased by dogs. All under the Fraudulent Guise of Managing. Cattlemen are saying, Grizzlies and Wolves are killing our cattle. Well there’s more to it. Cattle die of winter kill, birthing, diseases, poison weeds and other complications. It just not grizzlies, wolves, mountain lions. Predators cause a small percentage of livestock loss. Now it’s not the time do delist. Their populations are too small, fragmented and vulnerable to deteriorating environmental conditions If they delist. It will devastate the population. It will take years for them to rebound until our culture and government wise up and show some true compassion and generosity to wildlife, Grizzlies need the protection of the ESA.

    1. Very very true. Well said. More ppl need to realize this and the big guys need to learn how to count!

  5. ITS TIME TO GO FURTHER: Its time for Harriet Hageman to sponsor congressional hearings on the abuse of the Endangered Species Act which the grizzly bear listing has gone through for 20 years or so. Wyoming has more than met all of the goals established in the grizzly bear recovery plans many years ago – the original intent of the publicly approved grizzly bear plans has been grossly manipulated. The abuse is so offensive its time for congressional intervention to include modification of the ESA in order to prevent future abuse. In addition, the awarding of legal fees by Federal courts to those filing challenges to delisting must be addressed ny Congress and an end to this abuse must end. And shopping for friendly Federal court jurisdiction must be addressed in Congressional hearings. Enough is enough and this abuse must go to congressional hearings and Harriet is the woman to get it done. Have it it Harriet.

    1. You are so correct, Lee. Very few issues work out at the federal level, especially wildlife issues, in spite of self-imposed federal deadlines, animal count objectives, or other promises. The government agencies themselves are mostly made up of conservationists (at best), environmental extremists (at worst). These agency employees, which range from entry level to top management, all adhere to their radical beliefs and can never be counted on to be non-biased or desirous to enter into reasonable agreements or compromises. The fact that the initial Congressional bill included guidelines for all to follow, these agencies, backed by affluent individuals with good intentions, or radical environmental/animal rights groups/conservationists will sue in like-minded courts to delay these original guidelines. Congress needs to stand up to see that these laws passed years ago are followed instead of hiding for fear of not being re-elected.

  6. If the bears leave yellow stone they should be a hunting tag for them keep them under control

  7. I will make this short!

    Do not remove the Grizzley from the endangered list!

    This is an animal that will go extinct if you and the rest of us do not protect them.

    Let nature take its course.

    We are not now, nor have we ever been the higher being, and we do not need to start now.

  8. Why would any sentient person need to hunt grizzly bears? The key word here is sentient!

  9. Emotional and questionable phrases like Grizzlies as “emblems of the wild” and wild horses as “symbols of the American West (i.e., western expansion and manifest destiny) need to be dropped from the discussion of ecosystem management.

  10. Grizzlies ,should be put on endengered spiciest no doubt! Hope judges make right decision protect animals! Should restrict to purchase land in vicinity of great Yellowstone! Grizz should roam free keep humans away!

  11. Congratulations, Wyoming empiracy. By filing a lawsuit against Fish & Wildlife, you all but guarantee adding a couple more years grace for grizzlies. That’s how courtroom monkeywrenches work.

    1. Actually true. Mark Gordon makes a habit of making things worse related to the claimed causes he “champions.” Maybe that is deliberate as he is actually counter to those causes, but I suspect it is because he is clearly inept.