On Thursday, a federal court in Missoula is expected to decide if the Yellowstone grizzly bear will stay on the endangered species list. If the court upholds the federal government’s decision to delist the bear, a grizzly hunt will begin September 1 in Wyoming and Idaho.
Tribal and conservation groups are challenging the federal government’s 2017 decision to delist the grizzly bear population around Yellowstone National Park. The decision will affect more than 700 bears in parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
If the court upholds delisting, management of the Yellowstone grizzly will fall into those three states’ hands. The animal has been federally protected since 1975.
Hilary Cooley is the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The goal of the ESA — I think people sometimes forget this — it’s to recover them, and then to turn them over to state management," Cooley said. "It’s like an emergency room. It’s not about long-term management."
The federal government tried to remove protections for the bear in 2007, but environmental groups sued. In 2009 a federal court ruled that the government hadn’t adequately taken into account the decline of a major food source for grizzlies. The bear was re-listed.
"I hope that the Fish and Wildlife service learns something from the experience this time around," David Mattson, a wildlife researcher affiliated with groups suing to stop delisting said. "To take their duties more seriously, in terms of doing an adequate analysis, actually paying attention to public input, consulting with the tribes, which they did only a cursory job of this time around."
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen said he might rule from the bench Thursday, since a decision against delisting would put a stop to the grizzly hunt, slated to begin in early September. While Wyoming and Idaho issued grizzly permits, Montana has so far refrained from being part of the hunt.
The government is expected to propose delisting an even larger population of bears in northwest Montana later this year.