(CN) — The Ninth Circuit upheld protections for grizzly bears in the area of Yellowstone National Park Wednesday, staving off plans for trophy hunts in parts of Wyoming and Idaho.
Wyoming and Idaho must now scrap plans to host the first trophy hunts for grizzly bears outside of the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park since the animal was removed from the Endangers Species Act list in 2017. The panel also ordered U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a closer look at the science surrounding delisting the bears around the park.
“This is a tremendous victory for those who care about Yellowstone and its grizzly bears,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The court rightfully rejected the misguided proposal to subject Yellowstone grizzlies to trophy hunting for the first time in 40 years.”
Earthjustice represented the Crow Indian Tribe as well as a coalition of environmental groups. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state of Wyoming and hunting advocacy groups argued the grizzly protections should be removed and trophy hunting should be allowed.
The Ninth Circuit analyzed three legal conclusions arrived at by a federal judge in Montana — Fish and Wildlife failed to review the impact of delisting grizzlies in the region on a remnant grizzly population, failed to consider the best available science and neglected to recalibrate the data critical to estimate current grizzly populations.
The three-judge panel agreed Fish and Wildlife failed to consider the impact on a remnant population.
“The FWS must determine on remand whether there is a sufficiently distinct and protectable remnant population so that the delisting of the DPS will not further threaten the existence of the remnant,” U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote for the unanimous panel.
The panel further found Fish and Wildlife did not use the best available science, specifically failing to consider how a delisting and subsequent trophy hunting program would affect genetic diversity among the local grizzlies.
“Because the 2017 rule’s conclusion that genetic health no longer poses a threat to the Yellowstone grizzly is without scientific basis, this conclusion is arbitrary and capricious,” Schroeder wrote.
U.S. Circuit Judges Paul Watford and Andrew Hurwitz, both Barack Obama appointees, rounded out the panel.
The panel found Fish and Wildlife relied on two scientific studies in coming to its delisting decision, but ignored the central finding in both studies that delisting could have a deleterious effect on genetic diversity.
In terms of recalibration, the agency already agreed to update its data, meaning the panel did not weigh in on the matter.
The ruling remands both matters under contention to Fish and Wildlife with an order to consider impacts to the remnant population while weighing the science as it relates to overall genetic diversity in the regional grizzly population.
A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment by press time.
The ruling comes a day after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the Trump administration will drop plans to reintroduce grizzly bears the Cascades in north-central Washington state.
“The Trump administration is committed to being a good neighbor, and the people who live and work in north-central Washington have made their voices clear that they do not want grizzly bears reintroduced into the North Cascades,” Bernhardt said.
Part of the rationale for that decision was the success story of reintroduction in the greater Yellowstone rea.
“Grizzly bears are not in danger of extinction,” Bernhardt said.
But environmental groups say otherwise.
If hunting is allowed in the Yellowstone area, bears who wander across the invisible boundaries of the national park will be shot, hurting the overall population numbers and genetic diversity, environmentalists argue.
Grizzly bears once flourished throughout North America and the American West.
Now there is about 55,000 of the bears on the continent, most in Alaska. About 1,500 bears live in the lower 48 states, concentrated largely in the greater Yellowstone area, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Some environmental groups are arguing for the reintroduction of the grizzly into its historical range throughout the American West, including the Dakotas, Colorado and California.