HSUS’s successful lawsuit to protect Great Lakes wolves may hold key to restoring protections for Yellowstone-area grizzlies
Thanks to skillful work that exposed the government’s shoddy science and its inattention to the legal standards of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), we’ve been able to maintain federal protections for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin by winning two key cases in a U.S. District Court and a federal appeals courts. One effect of our successful effort to maintain federal protections for wolves has been to block trophy hunting and trapping for the last three years, sparing about a thousand wolves per year.
But the legal reasoning of the federal judges in these cases may have a second major effect – making it more difficult for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to continue with its premature decision to remove ESA protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).
HSUS attorneys have already sued to overturn the FWS’s shortsighted 2017 decision to remove federal protections for grizzly bears in the GYE. Reinstating these federal protections is a matter of life and death, as state wildlife agencies in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho have announced their intention to allow trophy hunters to kill these majestic bears when they wander outside the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
This federal rollback was clearly designed to serve the interests of trophy hunters and also the states bent on catering to them and to some outspoken ranchers. Thus, it is not surprising that the delisting rule utterly fails to consider the best available science regarding ongoing threats to the survival of the GYE grizzly population (including well-established declines in grizzly food sources such as cutthroat trout and whitebark pine, and record-high human-caused mortality from automobile accidents and poaching).
Not only does this rule fail to comply with the substantive provisions of the ESA, it also suffers from fatal procedural defects. The Department of Justice (DOJ) must know that the FWS’s decision is flawed, as the government appears to be scrambling to remedy its glaring errors. First, the DOJ has moved to delay the federal district court case challenging the rule – revealing, perhaps, that officials have realized that they have an uphill climb as the case now stands. Further, FWS has published a notice in the Federal Register that demonstrates that the agency erred in failing to consider the broader conservation impacts of the GYE delisting rule.
Specifically, the GYE grizzly delisting rule suffers from the exact deficiency identified by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia when The HSUS prevailed in the Great Lakes wolves case. In both instances, FWS carved out one population of animals from the species’ range in the lower 48 states and declared that such populations were recovered and no longer in need of federal protection. But in both instances FWS failed to consider what the impacts of removing protections for those population subsets would be on the remaining populations of bears and wolves that are in danger of extinction. These decisions are equally improper and federal protections of GYE grizzlies must be reinstated as they have been for Great Lakes wolves.
President Trump has acknowledged that trophy hunting is a “horror show” and yet the United States has the largest pool of people who take aim at the rarest animals for their heads. So many of the rare, large carnivores are struggling to survive in a world where habitats are fragmented and degraded and a wide range of human-caused threats produce too many dead bears. The United States should follow the lead of the province of British Columbia and recognize that keeping grizzly bears alive is a boon to local economies. Grizzly bears and wolves are a major economic driver to the GYE. According to a National Park Service report, GYE national parks generated $1.4 billion in 2015 and $1.5 billion in 2016 to Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho’s gateway regions, fueling thousands of jobs and helping local economies. It’s time for a new wildlife management paradigm built around appreciation and true conservation, and forbidding a small number of people who still glory in killing and terrorizing some of the world’s most remarkable creatures.