MISSOULA – With just days to go before Idaho and Wyoming hunters are allowed to hunt grizzlies for the first time in decades, conservationists are hoping a federal judge’s ruling could protect the big bears.
But it remains to be seen whether U.S. District Court Dana Christensen will find that federal agencies haven’t followed the Endangered Species Act in moving to "delist" the bears.
The US Department of the Interior moved last year to take the grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem off the Threatened Species List, saying decades of research had shown the grizzly populations around the Yellowstone and Grand Teton region had rebounded to the point whether they no longer need federal protection.
That decision turned management over to the states, with both Wyoming and Idaho approving limited hunts outside the parks that are set to start September 1st. Montana has opted to not have a grizzly hunting season this year.
But a coalition of tribal and conservation groups are faulting the government for not following the proper process for de-listing, setting up Thursday’s hearing in Missoula.
Given the close timing of the hearing — as well as the extensive filings in the case — there have been some indications Judge Christensen could even rule from the bench following Thursday morning’s arguments in the combined cases.
The hearing has no bearing on the grizzly bears living in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in Northwest Montana.