Judge Blocks Planned Grizzly Bear Hunting Season, Reinstates Federal Protections

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Just as hunting season was set to get off the ground, Chief District Judge Dana L. Christensen from Montana has overruled the decision made by Donald Trump’s administration, reinstating the legal protections for grizzly bears living in and around Yellowstone National Park. This will block planned hunts in both Wyoming and Idaho.

According to USA Today, the “judge ruled U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials were ‘arbitrary and capricious’ in their 2017 decision to remove the bears’ protections under the Endangered Species Act.”

This decision will be regarded as a major victory for animal rights groups who have been ardently arguing in a lawsuit that the dwindling numbers require legal protections for some 700 bears still alive in the area. Their argument was that the bears are “both a key part of the local ecosystem and a major tourist attraction.”

“The court’s ruling resonates with the feelings of countless Americans who believe in the protection of grizzly bears, and we’re as committed as ever to making sure that this celebrated population will be spared from the cruel and excessive trophy hunt planned by the states of Wyoming and Idaho,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Christensen explained his decision by stating that the lack of legal protections would rapidly lead to the extinction of the bears. The United States houses a number of different populations of grizzly bears across the country, and the concern is that the hunting of those in the Greater Yellowstone area will lead to inbreeding, which can cause the rest of the population to also die off due to a lack of genetic diversity.

“By refusing to analyze the legal and functional impact of delisting on other continental grizzly populations, the service entirely failed to consider an issue of extreme importance,” Christensen wrote in his decision issued on Monday. “Moreover, the service’s analysis of the threats faced by the Greater Yellowstone grizzly segment was arbitrary and capricious.”

It is not the first time the administration has tried to remove protections from the bears in the past 10 years, with officials believing they should be open for hunting season in order to “reduce conflicts with backcountry users and protect livestock.” Wyoming had already planned for 22 bears to be hunted this year, and there was one bear touted for the hunter’s rifle in Idaho. Christensen halted all hunts until he had made his ruling, which effectively blocks them anyway.

Grizzly bears were “among the first species granted protection under the Endangered Species Act” when their numbers dropped to a dizzying 136 in the Yellowstone area.