Supporters of continued federal oversight for Yellowstone grizzly bears have asked a federal judge to block Wyoming’s grizzly hunting season for another two weeks while they await his ruling on the legality of removing the bears’ Endangered Species Act protection.
Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso on Wednesday asked U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen to extend his Aug. 30 technical restraining order on the hunt before it expired on Thursday. The order blocked the first half of Wyoming’s first grizzly hunt in four decades, which was to begin on Sept. 1. A second phase of the hunting season in areas close to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks was set to start on Saturday.
“Having granted it once, it would make sense to continue it until we can reach a resolution of the case,” Preso said on Wednesday. “The only way to find out is to ask.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho recovered in 2017. That passed management of those grizzlies to state wildlife agencies. A coalition of environmentalists, conservation groups and Indian tribes sued the federal government, arguing it had failed in many ways to prove the estimated 750 bears in the GYE could persist under state agency management, or to show the delisting wouldn’t damage survival prospects for grizzlies in five other recovery zones. Christensen has not yet issued a decision on that case.
Wyoming and Idaho officials each set up a 2018 grizzly hunting season shortly after the 2017 delisting. Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission anticipated the court challenge and opted to hold off setting a hunt until the legal issues got settled. Through a tri-state agreement, Montana and Idaho each would have been allotted one grizzly bear to hunt while Wyoming got up to 22 bears, based on the percentage of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in each state.
Wyoming officials issued 12 either-sex grizzly permits for a hunting district south of Grand Teton National park that has relatively few bears. That season would have started Sept. 1 before Christensen’s order blocked it. The state’s Sept. 15 season would take place in hunting districts much closer to the two parks. Individual hunters would have up to 10 days apiece to kill a male grizzly. The hunt would continue until 10 male bears were killed, or one female was killed, or the 60-day season expired.
“We believe hunting is still an appropriate management tool for those bears,” said Blake Henning of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which has intervened in the case on the side of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “We think delisting is appropriate and for state wildlife managers to have that authority.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service also plans to delist grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem by the end of 2018. About 1,050 grizzlies live in that area between Glacier National Park and the southern tip of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Two other ecosystems, the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirks, have an estimated 50 grizzlies each. Grizzly bears have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1975.