MISSOULA, Montana – In a decision supportive of intertribal efforts to protect the grizzly bear, a judge here signed a Sept. 24 order just in time to save the species from trophy hunting season in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled in favor of the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne tribes in their 2017 consolidated cases against the U.S. and Wyoming governments for having removed the Greater Yellowstone grizzly population from the list of threatened species protected against hunting under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“In this order, the court vacates the June 30, 2017 Final Rule of the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population of grizzly bears and restores Endangered Species Act status to the Greater Yellowstone grizzly,” Christensen wrote.
Northern Cheyenne Nation President Lawrence Killsback lauded the decision, saying, “We have a responsibility to speak for the bears, who cannot speak for themselves.”
The Montana tribes were among plaintiffs in six consolidated cases blaming U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for breaking the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act to open hunting season on the bears.
Northern Cheyenne leaders are some of the more than 125 signatories to the “The Grizzly Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration,” considered the most-signed treaty in history.
The treaty declares: “We will do everything within our means so that with grizzly, we will once again live in the sacred cycle of reciprocity to nurture each other culturally and spiritually.”
The treaty also states: “It is our collective intention to recognize the grizzly as an umbrella species, central to the ecological system; and to provide a safe space and environment across our historic homelands we once shared with the grizzly where biologically suitable habitat still exists in the United States and Canada, so together we can have our grandparent, the grizzly, guide us in nurturing our land, plants and the other two-legged, four-legged and winged beings to once again realize the grizzly medicine ways for our future generations and recognize that our drumbeat is the heartbeat of the grizzly.”
Signers agree that continued protection of the grizzly in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at the headwaters of the Missouri, Mississippi, Columbia and Colorado rivers is crucial to habitat recovery, conservation, and prevention of oil pipeline threats.
The judge decided that Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service “erred in delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear without further consideration of the impact on other members of the lower-48 grizzly designation.”
She quoted a related ruling to reiterate that the agency “cannot abuse its power to delist an already-protected species by balkanization.”
A substantial population of the bears is found in only two of six grizzly habitats in the 48 contiguous states under federal jurisdiction: the Greater Yellowstone region with an estimated 700- plus bears, and the Northern Continental Divide region with an estimated 900-plus bears, the ruling stipulated.
The Greater Yellowstone grizzly’s closest geographic neighbor population is located in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, approximately 70 miles to the north on the other side of Interstate 90, with no known connectivity between the two, it established
Grizzlies have one of the slowest reproductive rates among terrestrial mammals, it noted, adding that the agency “refused to analyze the issue of connectivity between the Greater Yellowstone grizzly and other populations, determining that it could isolate and delist the Greater Yellowstone grizzly because the other populations remained listed.”
The ruling concludes: “By refusing to analyze the legal and functional impact of delisting on other continental grizzly populations, the Service entirely failed to consider an issue of extreme importance. Moreover, the Service’s analysis of the threats faced by the Greater Yellowstone grizzly segment was arbitrary and capricious.”
Ninety percent of voters support the Endangered
Species Act in its current form, according to Earthjustice, a non-profit that litigated on behalf of plaintiffs.
“The Endangered Species Act works. It has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct, including the bald eagle and grizzly populations near Yellowstone,” comments Marjorie Mulhall, legislative director for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans, at Earthjustice.
Together with dozens of conservation organizations, Earthjustice sent a letter to representatives in the lower chamber of Congress on Sept. 25, opposing a slate of bills being entertained by the House Natural Resources Committee, which would revamp the provisions of the law.
“Please protect the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most effective and important law for species conservation, by voting ‘no’ on the ‘Expanded Wildlife Extinction Package,’ including H.R. 3608, H.R. 6344, H.R. 6345, H.R. 6346, H.R. 6354, H.R. 6355, H.R. 6356, H.R. 6360, and H.R. 6364,” the letter said.
“These bills constitute an extreme assault on our nation’s wildlife, public participation, and one of our most popular and successful laws,” it concluded.
(Contact Talli Nauman at firstname.lastname@example.org)