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Grizzly Delisting in MT Court Days Before Hunting Season Starts

There are about 700 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. (Jim Peaco/Yellowstone National Park)
There are about 700 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. (Jim Peaco/Yellowstone National Park)
August 29, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. – Conservation and tribal groups are challenging removal of endangered-species protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears in court just days before hunting of the bears is set to begin in Idaho and Wyoming.

Six cases alleging that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly removed safeguards for grizzlies have been consolidated into one case that will be heard Thursday in a federal court in Missoula.

Idaho and Wyoming hunting seasons begin Saturday, potentially targeting up to 23 Yellowstone bears for the first time in more than four decades.

Tim Preso, a managing attorney at the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, who is representing conservation groups on Thursday, said the species already faces mounting pressures.

"We don't believe that now is the time to add new trophy-hunting mortality to what has already been record-setting mortality due to bears conflicting with ranchers and elk hunters," he said. "That's not what we need is more dead bears, and so that's a great concern for us."

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen said he could make a ruling after questioning on Thursday. Wildlife agencies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and hunting groups support delisting, saying grizzlies have been successfully managed back from the brink of extinction. There are about 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Conservation groups will argue that the bears' natural food sources are shrinking, in part because of climate change, leading to more conflicts with humans. They'll also point to mistakes found in delisting wolves in the western Great Lakes region.

If we can't properly and legally protect one of the country's most iconic animals, Preso said, other species might be in greater danger.

"That sends a pretty clear warning sign for all those other wildlife species that are less well-known and less highly regarded by the public but nevertheless very important in terms of their role in the environment," Preso said. "So it's important that we get it right with respect to Yellowstone bears, and that's one of the reasons we're bringing this case to court."

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks opted not to approve a grizzly hunting season this year.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT