A stunning decision by a federal court judge in Missoula Monday removed supervision of the Yellowstone grizzly bear from state administration and restored Endangered Species Act protection to the iconic animal.
In a swift reaction, Wyoming officials, who had been planning the first legal hunt of the bear in more than 40 years decried the announcement by Judge Dana Christensen.
"I am disappointed with today's decision," said Gov. Matt Mead. "Biologists correctly determined grizzly bears no longer needed ESA protections. The decision to return grizzly bears to the list of threatened and endangered species is further evidence that the ESA is not working as its drafters intended."
Christensen's decision followed an Aug. 30 hearing where six consolidated lawsuits protested the original delisting order and the proposed Wyoming hunt, scheduled to begin in stages Sept. 1 and Sept. 15. Christensen had issued two temporary restraining orders of two weeks apiece to delay the planned limited hunts which would have allowed for up to 11 bears to be harvested inside the Demographic Monitoring Area and 11 outside that zone in inferior habitat.
The judge's ruling essentially declares that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to say the bear is a recovered species despite its rebound from 136 animals in the early 1970s to approximately 700 today. The action revokes the powers given to Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to govern the bear's situation that were announced in June of 2017 and officially turned over at the end of July of last year. It also wipes out any chance of a hunt in Wyoming and the other states for the foreseeable future.
Decades of scientific study and monitoring of the bears, their movements, their reproductive habits, and their food sources led to the recommendation to delist the bears from federal protection.
Scott Talbott, director of Wyoming Game and Fish, also felt the judge's ruling was a bad choice.
"This is unfortunate," Talbott said. "Game and Fish is a strong proponent of all wildlife management being led by people who live in this state and having management decisions made at the local level."
Conservation groups, which joined with Native American tribes claiming hunting bears would violate their religious freedoms, were excited by the court ruling.
"We couldn't be happier to see federal protection restored by today's ruling, which affirms that sound science and the rule of law still trump political meddling in species recovery decisions," said Josh Osher Montana director of the Western Watersheds Project.
Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies added, "...this incredible animal deserves better from humans than a rush to the taxidermist."
Mead noted Wyoming has invested $50 million in recovery and management of the grizzly and the bears "have exceeded every scientifically established recovery criteria in the GYE (Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) since 2003."