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Federal Court in MT Hears Challenge to Grizzly Delisting

No longer protected as an endangered species, Wyoming has proposed allowing grizzly bear hunts this fall. Montana declined to do the same. (Ellie Attebery/Flickr)
No longer protected as an endangered species, Wyoming has proposed allowing grizzly bear hunts this fall. Montana declined to do the same. (Ellie Attebery/Flickr)
March 13, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. – The Trump administration is in court in Montana today, trying to delay groups that are challenging its decision to strip endangered-species protections from Yellowstone grizzly bears.

The hearing comes after another federal court ruled that endangered Great Lakes wolves can't be delisted in piecemeal fashion - a strategy similar to delisting only the Yellowstone bears.

Attorney Tim Preso with Earthjustice is representing the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and conservation groups in the case. According to Preso, the Great Lakes wolf case undermines U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its grizzly decision.

"If there's a problem with the delisting ruling that requires them to go back to the drawing board, they need to pull the delisting rule off the books and put the bears back on the protected species list until they can get that worked out," Preso explains. "It's not appropriate to have a flawed delisting rule left in place while they go back and try to fill in the gaps in their decision-making."

The stakes for Yellowstone grizzlies are high. On Friday, Wyoming proposed allowing hunting and killing up to 24 grizzly bears this fall. In February, Montana declined to do the same.

In announcing the agency's decision, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hailed the species' recovery as historic.

Native people in the region believe the grizzly is sacred, but Northern Cheyenne Tribe Administrator William Walksalong says he's been frustrated that the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn't taken tribal concerns seriously. He feels grizzlies are being pushed to the brink of extinction the same way Native Americans were.

"The policies, the management practices on the grizzly bear are similar to how our native people were treated - not as a living creature, but as objects, quantifiable objects," he laments.

Stephanie Adams is the Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, which has joined the challenge to grizzly delisting.

If the bears stay off the endangered species list, Adams says it's important that the agency keep an accurate count in order to manage a stable population and consider all the threats they face, including the effects of a dwindling food source.

"Shifting their diets to food sources such as hunter-killed elk, which are bringing them into increased conflict with humans and increasing their mortality," she says. "And we think that's a big concern that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not look closely enough at."

The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 P.M. in Missoula.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT