After a federal court judge in Missoula last Thursday extended his ban on Wyoming supervising its first grizzly bear hunt in more than 40 years, Game and Fish reacted with a now-familiar sense of discouragement.
Saying it was in “the public interest” and “irreparable injury” would accrue to those suing, Judge Dana Christensen announced he was extending a previously declared temporary restraining order in the case of Crow Indian Tribe v. United States of America and State of Wyoming by an additional two weeks as he considers a host of related issues consolidated from several cases.
Conservation groups contend the Yellowstone grizzly should never have been delisted and Native American tribes say killing sacred bears violates their religious beliefs.
The matters represent spin-offs from the decision in June of 2017 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the Yellowstone grizzly from Endangered Species Act protection and return management of the species to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho last July 31.
When Wyoming announced it would conduct a limited hunt as part of its management plan, beginning in two stages, Sept. 1 and Sept. 15, that issue also was taken to court.
The cautiously constructed Wyoming hunt allowed for up to 23 grizzlies to be harvested inside the Demographic Monitoring Area and in an area of less-suitable habitat with hunters allowed into the field. Idaho has planned an even more limited hunt.
Idaho’s court representatives opposed the restraining order extension on several counts, including that “plaintiffs do not demonstrate irreparable harm” to the area grizzly from these hunts.
Brian Nesvik, Game and Fish’s chief wildlife officer, responded to Christensen’s latest action by saying, “We are disappointed.”
After the first restraining order, Game and Fish announced it had suspended its hunting plans indefinitely.
“The Game and Fish will abide by Judge Christensen’s order,” Nesvik said of the extension. “We will be notifying hunters today about the update.”
The first restraining order was announced Aug. 30. It was due to expire Sept. 13, when Christensen said, “the Court finds that good cause supports extending the TRO for an additional 14 days.”
On the same side as Wyoming, the U.S. Department of Justice contested the renewed restraining order, claiming those bringing the suit “have no likelihood of success on the merits” and they have not proven irreparable harm.
Those opposed to the hunt were pleased about the extended restraining order.
“We were thrilled two weeks ago when the court blocked the start of the hunting season and we’re grateful that the judge continued to offer temporary protection pending his decision,” said Erik Molivar of the Western Watersheds Project.
The matters under consideration have their roots in the early 1970s.
Once it was determined the population of Yellowstone grizzlies had declined to 136, the animal was placed on the Endangered Species list.
Efforts to study and nurture the species over decades led to the determination that a population of 700 in the region demonstrated recovery. As the bears expanded their territory, a clamor arose for delisting, especially in Wyoming.
Nesvik disputed the idea irreparable harm will come to the Yellowstone grizzly if there is a hunt.
“Wyoming Game and Fish has a strong grizzly bear management program with protections for the bear population as a whole,” he said, “but allows for a conservative hunting season.”
The issue of a hunt becomes moot if the court rules the grizzly should not have been delisted in the first place.”
“There remains serious questions regarding whether FWS complied with the Administrative Procedure Act and the Endangered Species Act in delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population,” Christensen wrote in his latest court opinion.