U.S. Judge Dana L. Christensen extended for another two weeks the temporary restraining order he signed Aug. 30 after a contentious oral hearing in federal court in Missoula, Montana, over the federal government’s decision to remove a population of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from Endangered Species Act protections.
In his ruling to extend the order, Christensen said that without it, “the plaintiffs face the potential death of members of a threatened species. That hardship substantially outweighs the hardship to be endured by the defendants … who must refrain only from hunting grizzly bears for an additional two weeks.”
“We appreciate that Judge Christensen is preventing any unnecessary bloodshed while he deliberates on this important case,” Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement. “There is simply no need to rush into a grizzly bear hunt, with potentially devastating consequences for this iconic species, when the merits of that hunt are being reviewed in federal court.”
“We are gratified Yellowstone’s beloved bears are once again safe from trophy hunters’ bullets,” Bethany Cotton, program director for WildEarth Guardians, added.
The suit stems from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s publication of a rule in June 2017 that said the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly bear population of about 700 bears had recovered and no longer met the definition of a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bear populations from the endangered species list, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming — states next to Yellowstone National Park — received authority to manage bears that wander out of the park.
The states decided that hunting quotas would be part of their annual “discretionary mortality” of bears that get killed by humans in control actions in which bears kill livestock, injure people or become habituated to humans.
Wyoming planned a hunting season of up to 23 bears and Idaho scheduled a hunting season for a single male grizzly bear. Montana chose not to pursue a grizzly bear hunting season this year.
The plaintiffs, which include Native American tribes and conservation groups, are challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to carve a distinct subpopulation of Yellowstone bears out of the U.S. populations, exposing it to “discretionary mortality” that includes hunting.
The case includes dozens of intervener plaintiffs and defendants.
Plaintiff interveners Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and the Sierra Club filed this week’s motion to extend the temporary restraining order.
Plaintiff attorneys argue that it’s illegal under the Endangered Species Act to create a distinct population and remove it from the endangered species list.
All grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were listed in 1975 as a threatened species, but in the last 20 years the Fish and Wildlife Service has created and defined subpopulations of bears in the Northern Rocky Mountains ecosystem.
This is the second time that the Fish and Wildlife Service has removed the bears from the threatened species list. When it first attempted removal in 2007, a federal court upheld the decision but the Ninth Circuit ordered the service to reconsider its decision.
The states said in oral arguments that they want the ability to manage grizzly bears that come out of Yellowstone National Park.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission said in a statement it had set “a conservative approach” for Wyoming’s first grizzly bear hunting season since 1974. According to the commission, grizzly bears in Wyoming have exceeded recovery criteria since 2004.
The commission voted unanimously in May to pursue the grizzly bear hunting season.
Wyoming Assistant Attorney General Erik Petersen said 7,000 people had applied for the 23 bear permits.