A federal judge in Montana last night issued an order blocking what would have been the first trophy hunting season on grizzlies since the 1970s, set to open in Wyoming and Idaho this Saturday. The ruling came in response to a motion filed by the Humane Society of the United States with a coalition of conservation groups, as part of our lawsuit challenging the federal government’s removal of Endangered Species Act protection for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The temporary restraining order lasts for 14 days while the court considers the merits of the case, for the moment sparing up to 23 bears from trophy hunters.
The hunt, which would have allowed for the killing of 22 bears in Wyoming and one bear in Idaho, cannot come at a worse time for the beleaguered Greater Yellowstone bear population, already troubled by an array of threats to their survival, each directly or indirectly tied to human activity. The bears’ primary plant and animal food sources are disappearing due to climate change and as they are forced to range further from their core habitat areas in search of food, they are increasingly drawn into conflict with livestock operations. These conflicts inevitably prompt calls for lethal removals of grizzly bears, further exacerbating pressures on their population. Given all this, it is inexcusable that the states entrusted with managing the imperiled bears should have rushed to authorize trophy hunting at such an extreme scale.
Bears also routinely wander beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where killing bears is prohibited. In their encounters with humans since January 2015, 209 bears have died directly because of actions by poachers, cattle ranchers, and elk hunters, and via automobile accidents. This represents record levels of human-caused bear mortality.
This trend should have been a clear signal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Yellowstone’s grizzlies need ESA protections now more than ever. But, amid the rush to deregulate by the current leadership of the Interior Department, the best available science was ignored. Last year, we filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the politically motivated decision to remove ESA protections for the bears.
Wyoming’s hunting regulations even allow for female bears to be hunted, further threatening the population’s reproductive capacity, and increasing the risk of orphaned cubs being left on their own to die.
Grizzly bears are an iconic species on the American landscape and there is broad scientific, tribal, and public support for protecting them. Research shows wildlife watchers spend nearly twice as much as hunters do, and tourism in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks – where visitors shoot bears with cameras, not guns – brings in millions of dollars to local economies each year.
The court’s order gives Yellowstone’s grizzlies a much-needed reprieve. But it is only temporary. Their ultimate fate will be decided when the judge issues his final opinion. This is a tough fight, but it’s one to which we’re dedicated in the fullest way. We remain confident in the strength of our position, hopeful that we will prevail, and as committed as ever to fighting to preserve American wildlife.