UPDATED 6:27 PM
The U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service must return grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park to the Endangered Species List, a federal judge in Missoula ordered today.
The Yellowstone-area grizzly was removed from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act last year. Grizzlies in the lower 48 have been listed as “threatened” since 1975.
An estimated 700 bears live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which contains parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The judge’s order puts a stop to grizzly hunts that targeted as many as 22 bears in Wyoming, one in Idaho and none in Montana.
Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, says grizzlies have been dying in record numbers near roads and due to other constraints on their habitats.
"The significance is that now grizzly bears truly have a chance to recover. And their habitat will be protected until they're recovered. And that’s essential," Garrity said.
The judge’s decision says that the federal government can’t split up the grizzly population into smaller segments without considering the health of the species as a whole.
The Fish and Wildlife Service was expected to issue a decision on delisting another, even larger population of bears in and around Glacier National Park, later this fall.
Jennifer Strickland, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "In light of the court’s ruling, management of these grizzly bears returns to the federal government,a dn we will work with the state and tribes to ensure that this transition proceeds in accordance with the court’s order."
The lawsuit was filed by conservation groups including the Sierra CLub and the Center for BIological Diversity, and Native American groups, including the Crow Indian Tribe. Judge Dana Christensen had put restraining orders on the hunts since the federal hearing last month.
FIRST STORY, 5:30PM
Yellowstone area grizzly bears have been returned to the endangered species list.
Today U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula vacated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s June 30 removal of Yellowstone grizzlies from Endangered Species Act protections. The ruling ends the planned grizzly hunts this year that had been delayed in Wyoming and Idaho.
Christensen ruled in favor of the conservation groups and Indian Tribes who sued to stop de-listing, finding both their main claims were valid: that by delisting the Greater Yellowstone grizzly without analyzing how that action would affect other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service "entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem."
Christensen also ruled that Fish and Wildlife “negotiated away its obligation to apply the best available science in order to reach an accommodation with the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.”
This post will be updated.