Judge puts Idaho, Wyoming grizzly bear hunts on hold

A federal judge in Missoula, Mont., delayed grizzly bear hunts in Idaho and Wyoming for 14 days while he considers whether the bears should be protected again.

Grizzly bear hunts in Idaho and Wyoming have been delayed by a federal judge while he decides whether to reinstate federal protection for the bears.

The hunts were scheduled to start Sept. 1 but stopped by a temporary restraining order for 14 days on Aug. 30 by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Mont.

The judge wrote that the hunt would cause irreparable harm to the bears “because once a member of an endangered species has been injured, the task of preserving that species becomes all the more difficult.”

Tim Preso, Earthjustice attorney, called a 2017 federal government decision illegal that delisted some grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species Act.

Earthjustice filed for the temporary restraining order on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and National Park Conservation Association.

Idaho and Wyoming were planning the first hunts in more than 40 years that would allow for up to 23 bears to be killed outside Yellowstone National Park. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission said the bears have exceeded recovery criteria since 2004 and that management is necessary.

There are 718 grizzlies in a suitable habitat area within the Yellowstone ecosystem and the criteria was for 500 bears, Renny MacKay, Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokesman has said.

Wyoming pays ranchers for loss of livestock on a formula that figures there are more kills for every one reported, he said. The state paid $455,000 for livestock kills by grizzlies in 2016, $509,000 in 2015 and $301,000 in 2014, he said.

Christensen granted the temporary restraining order 2 1/2 hours after Earthjustice asked for it and without giving the federal government or Mountain States Legal Foundation time to review it or comment, said Cody Wisniewski, MSLF lead attorney.

“Plaintiffs argue the federal government didn’t follow proper procedure and didn’t have authority to delist just part of the species,” Wisniewski said. “But the ESA was never designed to allow permanent federal management. Rather the goal was to allow the federal government to step in and aid states to recover a species and then turn management back over to the state. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is recovered (for grizzlies) by all accounts.”

MSLF represents the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, rancher Charles C. Price and W. and M. Thoman Ranches LLC.

“My clients are not people flying in and out of the West to drive through the national parks or go on hunting trips. They are people who live here, people who work on this land and people who put food on our plates,” Wisniewski told the court.

As grizzlies have increased ranchers have faced mounting losses to sheep and cattle and more frequent attacks on humans, Nathan Harden, MSLF spokesman in Lakewood, Colo.

Thoman Ranches lost 445 sheep to grizzlies in one year and have given up federal grazing permits because their losses have been so great, he said.

Mary Thoman wrote in an Aug. 29 USA Today op-ed piece that if the grizzly population continues to grow unchecked it will be impossible for ranchers to earn a living.

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