Grizzly Bears: Protected By The Court… Again

By: Dominique Albano

For the first time in 10 years, grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park were removed from the Endangered Species List and allowed to be hunted on Yellowstone National Park hunting grounds. [1] The grizzly bear population has been federally protected since 1975 due to the stringency of the Endangered Species Act. [2] Since 1975, scientists have tracked the Yellowstone grizzly population and are happy to report the population has rebounded from 136 to 700. [3] However, even though the population has recovered, it is premature to think the population will be able to maintain itself during hunting season. [4] In the past decade, multiple actions have been taken to remove the grizzlies from the list for hunting, but none have been successful. In 2007, state officials tried to delist grizzly bears, but once again the order was struck down by a U.S. District Judge. [5] This time around, the Trump Administration has attempted to take the beloved grizzly bear off the Endangered Species list and deregulate policies regarding wildlife protection across the country. Luckily, a federal judge blocked the order and restored the bears to their rightful place on the list, preventing the government, for the time being, from hunting the Park’s beloved resident. The federal case was Crow Indian Tribe v. United States, decided on September 24, 2018 by Montana federal Judge Dana Christensen. She reiterated to the court that, “… in delisting Yellowstone grizzlies from the endangered list, the Fish and Wildlife Service had acted ‘arbitrarily and capriciously,’ disregarding the long-term health of grizzly bear populations.” [6]

The reason Judge Christensen chose to rule against the Fish and Wildlife Service was not a matter of law, but a determination of the, “… genetic diversity within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” [7] The ultimate determination was made based on its affect to other wildlife populations in region. [8] The court stated that the lack of connectivity between other bear groups in the Park makes them “genetically vulnerable” and small population declines can be catastrophic to the species. [9]  Also, a delisting of this magnitude would create major controversy for the Endangered Species Act and other ecosystems that house endangered species. [10] The judge was aware that a decision to remove grizzlies from the list leaves them and other populations of bears “genetically vulnerable.” [11] The current divide between the Trump Administration and Environmentalists has led people to believe that the Administration is working to weaken the Act all together. [12] This kind of dilemma has not been the only issue scientists and environmental groups have faced with this Administration’s anti-science attitude. [13] Conservative government officials were disappointed about this decision. Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming stated that his disappointment stemmed from his view that the grizzlies rising population is a “success story” and the population has completely recovered. [14] The state alone has poured $50 million into recovery and management of the grizzly’s population and exceeded the regions 2003 recovery criteria. [15] However, the science community continues to push back against government officials based on evidence that the delicate population is not strong enough to withstand hunting and are still at risk of declining in Yellowstone National Park.

The Endangered Species Act has been at the forefront of a deregulating battle with the Trump Administration. The New Yorker was not exaggerating when it said a “madman” is in the White House and is working to roll back on regulations protecting marine and wild life. [16] Making these changes allows Trump’s allies to build roads, pipe lines and mines that destroy ecosystems across the country. [17] Keeping iconic legislation like the Endangered Species Act in tact is crucial to the survival of endangered species all over the world. The likelihood of wildlife extinction rates are now a thousand times higher than they have been “at most other points in history,” therefore, it is necessary for species, such as grizzly bears, to remain protected for the inevitable future of what climate change has in store for us. [18]

[1] Jim Ribbons,Hunt of Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Canceled as a Result of Judge’s Ruling, New York Times (Sept. 25, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/25/science/yellowstone-grizzly-hunt.html

[2] Christopher Ketcham, Inside the Effort to Kill Protections for Endangered Animals, National Geographic (May 19 ,2018). https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/endangered_speciesact/

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Sarah Gibbens, Court Blocks Grizzly Bear Hunt—Why It’s So Controversial, National Geographic (Sept. 25, 2018). https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/09/news-yellowstone-grizzly-bear-endangered-hunting/

[6] Id. See also Crow Indian Tribe v. United States, 284 F.2d 361 (Ct. Cl. 1960).

[7] Jim Ribbons,Hunt of Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Canceled as a Result of Judge’s Ruling, New York Times (Sept. 25, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/25/science/yellowstone-grizzly-hunt.html

[8] Id.

[9] Gibbens, supra at 5.

[10] Robbins, supra at 7.

[11] Robbins, supraat 7.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Elizabeth Kolbert, The Trump Administration Takes on the Endangered Species Act, The New Yorker(July 26, 2018).https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-trump-administration-takes-on-the-endangered-species-act

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

4 comments

  1. I didn’t realize that grizzly bears in Yellowstone had been removed from the Endangered Species List. It’s nice to see that judges are stepping up and using the law to protect these species and to help maintain the health of our ecosystems!

  2. Great article. I hope that courts will continue to rule similar to the Crow Indian case. It will be interesting to see how the Trump Administration treats this decision in the future, should other endangered species become targets.

  3. It is very interesting to see that courts, at least the courts in the Western United States, are starting to observe genetic vulnerability in delicate ecosystems like Yellowstone. Hopefully, this will bring the gap between animal rights and the legal system.

  4. This was a very interesting article. I was blissfully unaware that in a National Park that, Grizzly Bears were ever permitted to be hunted. I’m thankful for the court system for stepping in to ensure the Grizzly Bear’s protection, and hopefully that any further attempts by the Trump Administration to devalue the lives of these animals and to harm the ecosystem will be thwarted as well.

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