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Feds File Appeal To Delist Yellowstone-Area Grizzlies

A 2017 map showing the area between estimated occupied grizzly bear range in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to the north and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the south.
Lisa Landenburger, USGS - Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
Source: Peck et al. 2017.
Map showing the area between estimated occupied grizzly bear range in the NCDE to the north and the GYE to the south.

The Trump Administration Friday asked a federal appeals court to remove Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stripped federal protections for those bears in 2017, but a federal judge in Missoula returned the grizzlies to the endangered species list last fall. That move cancelled what would been the first grizzly hunts in the lower 48 in decades, scheduled in Wyoming and Idaho.

The Interior Department filed an intent to appeal in December and the briefs filed today met the deadline to do so and take the case to the Ninth Circuit.

Andrea Santarsiere, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, says Yellowstone grizzlies are isolated from other bear populations, and human-caused deaths are on the rise.

"It’s unfortunate that the Trump administration wants to waste more time and money."

She says the appeal could take between one and four years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on ongoing litigation. But they released an annual report Friday for all six grizzly ecosystems in the Lower 48. That report estimates more than 700 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and says the population has met recovery goals.

Judge Dana Christensen’s September decision said the Fish and Wildlife Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it delisted grizzlies. He said they didn’t consider a method of counting bears that might inflate their overall numbers, how delisting one population might affect grizzlies elsewhere, and how the bears might connect between ecosystems.

Santarsiere says the government’s piecemeal approach ignores the big picture of grizzly recovery -- especially connectivity.

"Removing federal protections from one population at a time is the best way to ensure that connectivity never happens. To us that’s just not recovery."

The court battles over Yellowstone grizzlies have also delayed government talks over delisting another population of grizzlies in and around Glacier National Park. The Fish and Wildlife Service says that population of about 1,000 bears has also met recovery goals.

This is the second time the Ninth Circuit is taking up the government’s attempt to delist Yellowstone grizzlies. Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have also appealed, along with numerous hunting organizations including the NRA.


Need a refresher on the management actions and court cases that got us here? Check out our timeline of grizzly bear recovery from ESA listing through today.

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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