Montana District Judge Dana Christensen blocked the first planned grizzly hunts near Yellowstone in decades, calling the rationale to allow them ‘illogical.’
In a much-anticipated and controversial ruling yesterday, Judge Christensen prevented Idaho and Wyoming from going forward with the first legal grizzly hunt since 1974. Not only did Christensen stop the hunt but also reinstated the Yellowstone bears’ Endangered Species Act protections. Before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted them last year, these protections had been in place for over 40 years.
What’s more, the judge wrote a scathing 47-page decision that was highly critical of the USFWS. In it, Christensen called the agency’s rationale for delisting the grizzly “illogical,” “simplistic,” and “disingenuous.”
Photo credit: David Bush
Yellowstone Grizzly Hunt
The move punctuates a legal contest that had already delayed the hunt’s scheduled Sept. 1 start date. As many as 23 bears around Yellowstone would have been available for a hunt made legal by a 2017 USFWS decision to delist the grizzly from federal protections in place since 1975.
Last summer, in a move backed by the NRA, Safari Club International, some hunters, and others, the USFWS claimed grizzly populations in the “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” had rebounded from their 1975 low of 140 to a healthy level above 700.
That decision paved the way for states abutting Yellowstone — Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana — to open licensed hunts for the apex predator. While Montana waived the opportunity pending further review, Idaho and Wyoming combined sold 24 licenses.
But in his decision Monday, Christensen ruled in favor of environmental groups and Native American tribes that opposed the hunt. He said the federal government failed to adequately consider the long-term health of grizzly populations throughout the lower 48 states.
Christensen called the government’s focus on the Yellowstone grizzly populations “simplistic at best and disingenuous at worst,” adding that lifting protections from a single area where they had recovered “illogical.”
According to the Yellowstone Insider, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem constitutes just 2 percent of the grizzly’s total U.S. range. USFWS spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland told The Independent the agency stood by its 2017 decision and it was now “considering next steps.”