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U.S. Justice Department challenges decision that blocked grizzly bear hunts

Yellowstone region grizzly bear hunting

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Another day, another debate over the best way to manage grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. The most recent twist to the controversial topic came last week when U.S. Justice Department attorneys requested that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturn U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s September 2018 ruling that returned federal protections to the bears, citing fraudulent science.

According to the Associated Press, Justice Department attorneys argue that Christensen “was wrong to require officials to review the status of grizzlies everywhere before lifting protections” in the Greater Yellowstone region and also “rejected the notice that the bears’ long-term genetic health was in doubt.” Yet, they are not asking the federal appeals court to overturn Christensen’s full ruling – just the part that blocked the grizzly bear hunts in the Lower 48. In fact, according to the Associated Press, the attorneys didn’t “challenge other concerns” that included “whether sufficient safeguards are in place to keep the bears from sliding toward extinction” should the management of grizzlies be transferred to state agencies.

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The Fish and Wildlife Service “has accepted a remand in this case and is already working on some of the issues identified by the district court,” the attorneys wrote.

This decision impacts the estimated 700 grizzly bears that roam within the Greater Yellowstone region. Should the federal court overturn Christensen’s decision, management would be returned to the states and hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho could be back on the table.

Stay tuned to goHUNT for further updates.


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Aaron J. - posted 1 month ago on 07-02-2019 03:59:49 pm

Hate to say I told you so, but here you all go. The states the Center for Biological Diversity want grizzlies in are Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Who's willing to bet that Judge Dana Christensen doesn't somehow get the case?

George C. - posted 2 months ago on 06-02-2019 04:49:17 pm

It's important to note this appeal is headed to the ninth circuit because the judge who ruled is based out of Montana which is in the ninth. If the decision was in Wyoming, it would head to the 10th circuit out of Denver. It's possible this ruling would be shot down by the ninth circuit as most hunting cases are. Hopefully, this would be appealed to the Supreme Court if it makes it that far.

Aaron J. - posted 2 months ago on 05-29-2019 10:36:19 am

The link to the grizzly historic range is cutoff in my first post, here it is a second time.

Aaron J. - posted 2 months ago on 05-29-2019 10:34:09 am

Good move by the US DOJ, but it probably will be unsuccessful. The District Judge's reasoning is not only flawed, it's misguided (to put it in the most generous term possible). The justification he cited last fall for his ruling was that the grizzlies were not fully recovered in its historic range, and therefore, the US FWS could not split up the population into smaller segments for purposes of delisting. So logically, what this enlightened federal judge who has taken total control over the grizzly question for the entire United States is saying, is that unless the grizzly bears are fully restored to their entire historic range, there can be no delisting from the ESA.

This is very flawed reasoning and the legal requirements he is citing are not found within the ESA. Specifically, this would mean that grizzly bears would need to be fully restored from Nome, Alaska to Guadalajara, Mexico (north to south), and Los Angeles, California to St. Louis, Missouri and on down to Dallas, Texas (west to east). I'm sure in a pinch the anti-hunting groups who are the plantiffs could find some "expert" university professor on one of the coasts that would create some computer models that show the historic boundaries even larger than that.

So there you go, that's the legal standard that this lone judge is requiring as a basis for grizzlies to be delisted and the issue to be given to states to manage. According to Judge Dana Christensen, we need grizzly bears roaming in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri and Dallas, Texas, south of the Rio Grande, and all the way over to the Mexican peninsula and up to Nome, Alaska before Wyoming residents can expect actual wildlife management experts do their job.

So if anyone needs to ask at this point if grizzly hunts under state management will happen anytime soon, the answer is not very likely. The 9th Circuit is unlikely to overturn this judge on appeal because the trial judge is the gateway to evidence. The appellate court will only see what the judge effectively allowed on the record. As well, the 9th Circuit is already more than title towards an anti-hunting bias, which is strategically why the district court judge (in the 9th Circuit) took over the entire grizzly issue and why the plaintiffs forum shopped to get it in front of the judge they wanted in the first place. The only chance of some sanity on this issue is for it to reach the US Supreme Court, very unlikely, or a delisting of grizzlies by Congressional Act, also very unlikely given our current makeup of Congress controlled by Democrats. Another possibility is to restructure the Circuit Court of Appeals to put Montanna and Idaho in the 10th Circuit, which is closer to their states and consistent with their populations. This is a bigger political longshot than the former options.

Overall, the grizzly problem is very unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.