You may remember late last month when a judge stepped in to stop the opening of the first grizzly bear hunting season in Wyoming and Idaho in 40 years. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wanted a little more time to review how the US Fish and Wildlife Service had gone about removing federal protection for Yellowstone grizzlies under the Endangered Species Act.

Well, this week Christensen decided to place those grizzlies back under the protection of the ESA. He ruled that the USFWS made use of “arbitrary and capricious” evidence when they decided to delist the animals and make them available for hunting. Christensen’s ruling took into account not just the status of bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but across the western states in general, a broad conception of the health of grizzly populations he says the USFWS failed to employ.

“By delisting the Greater Yellowstone grizzly without analyzing how delisting would affect the remaining members of the lower-48 grizzly designation,” he wrote, “the [US Fish and Wildlife] Service failed to consider how reduced protections in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem would impact the other grizzly populations.”

Conservation and Native American groups had immediately and vociferously argued against the proposed delisting of the grizzly as soon as it was announced earlier this summer. More than 100 Native American tribal nations, including some in Canada, signed the Grizzly Treaty, in a rare moment of cooperation across that many nations.

“The grizzly bear, historically, is a religious icon to virtually all tribal nations in the United States and Canada,” said Ben Nuvamsa of the Hopi Bear Clan. “There is not one tribe that does not hold the bear in high regard and does not include the bear in its ceremonies.”

While the estimated 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem represents a doubling of their numbers compared to when they were first placed under federal protection back in 1975, Christensen noted that there were once some 50,000 grizzlies living in North America and said it would be “simplistic at best and disingenuous at worst” to not take into account the population of grizzlies outside the Yellowstone area when considering stripping any bears of federal protection.

Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, said he was “disappointed” by the ruling. A spokesperson for the Wyoming Farm Bureau said letting the numbers of grizzlies grow under federal protection would contribute to “endangering the lives and livelihoods of westerners who settled the region long ago.”

The USFWS will now decide what its next move will be.

“The grizzly is a big part of why the Yellowstone region remains among our nation’s last great wild places,” Tim Preso, a lawyer for EarthJustice said in a statement. “This is a victory for the bears and for people from all walks of life who come to this region to see the grizzly in its natural place in the world.”

Photo by Eric Johnston/National Park Service

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