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Feds Have Until Friday To File Yellowstone Grizzly Delisting Appeal

Hilary Cooley, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, presenting at an annual meeting on grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, Nov. 20, 2018.
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio

The Trump Administration must decide by Friday whether to appeal a ruling from a federal judge in Missoula last fall that put Yellowstone-area grizzly bears back on the endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protections for the roughly 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the summer of 2017. Wyoming and Idaho then organized grizzly hunts, and tribes and conservation organizations sued to stop delisting.

Last September, District Judge Dana Christensen ruled the Fish and Wildlife Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and restored ESA protections to those grizzlies, which stopped the hunts. Late last year, the federal government filed an intent to appeal.

And now, "Our brief is due," says Hilary Cooley, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If the government files a brief, the case will move on to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is the second time the federal government has attempted to delist Yellowstone-area grizzlies. In 2011, the Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision to return the bears to the endangered species list.

Related: A History Of Grizzly Bear Recovery In The Lower 48

Judge Christensen cited three main issues in halting the delisting process: a statistical method that may inflate the bear population, a lack of work on how bears might connect between grizzly ecosystems, and insufficient analysis on how delisting one population of bears might affect other, remnant bears.

That decision also complicated federal talks about removing Endangered Species Act protections for an even larger population of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in and around Glacier National Park.

"There’s lots of fuzzy terms in the statute, in the ESA. It’s not like it’s a recipe book," Cooley says.

So she says there’s room for interpretation, and if it goes ahead, she hopes the appeal is quick and successful.

"I guess we’ll just see how it plays out."

As battles go on in court, Cooley says the Fish and Wildlife Service is hard at work on the ground, working with states and others to conduct the science and management necessary to help grizzlies thrive.

Nick Mott is a reporter and podcast producer who focuses on wildlife, natural resources, and the environment. He was editor on the podcasts Shared State and Fireline, and producer on the podcasts Threshold and Richest Hill.
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