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Lawsuit Filed Challenging Delisting of Yellowstone Grizzlies

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Thursday, August 31, 2017   

MISSOULA, Mont. – Conservation groups are challenging in court the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to strip Yellowstone grizzly bears of endangered species protection.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula and says Fish and Wildlife's decision to take grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem off the endangered species list is based on flawed science and undermines the bears' continuing recovery.

Tim Preso, an attorney in Montana for Earthjustice, says now is not the time for the bears to lose crucial federal protections and be turned over to the states.

"Our basic point is this is not the time to declare victory and subject bears to less protection and specifically to subject them to the threat of state-sponsored trophy hunting in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, which is something that the states are actively planning for," Preso stresses.

When he announced the decision in July, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hailed the lifting of protections as a sign of "one of America's great conservation successes."

Under new management, states are required to maintain a "stable population," defined as between 600 and about 750 bears within the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Estimates for 2016 showed there were about 690 bears in that area, and conservation groups are worried that if those numbers dwindle to 600, it could take years for the slow-reproducing animals to rebound.

Barrie Gilbert, a retired conservation biologist who studied grizzlies for decades, says it is hard to know the actual number of bears.

"It's still very difficult to tell what the population is doing,” he states. “They're one of the hardest species to determine trends in the numbers, and I don't think people have the realization of how uncertain the results are from those kinds of studies."

Gilbert points out the bears still face a lot of threats, such as a reduction in food sources, including whitebark pine and cutthroat trout. He says opening hunting season would be disastrous for the population and refutes the claim that bears have actually made much of a comeback.

"Of course, if you give them protection, they're going to grow, but that doesn't mean that they're doing especially well,” he states. “They're just returning to where they had been before they were destroyed in such large numbers in the '70s."





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