MISSOULA – A U.S. District Court judge has granted a request by tribes and conservation groups to stop grizzly bear hunts in Wyoming and Idaho which were slated to start as soon as Saturday.
The request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction was filed on Thursday afternoon by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club and others, hours after attorneys spent hours in a Missoula courtroom debating the larger question of bear protection.
US District Court Judge Dana Christensen is being asked to overturn the US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove the Yellowstone grizzlies off the list of "threatened species", turning management to the states.
The bears would still be protected inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks, but Wyoming and Idaho are already planning limited hunts outside the parks.
Critics held press conferences and demonstrated outside the federal courthouse in Missoula this week, complaining grizzlies would be "slaughtered" — reversing years recovery.
Meanwhile, inside the courtroom, attorneys complained that federal officials "abandoned reason" with "glaring deficiencies’ in science, leaving state plans that "create new threats" to bears that "didn’t exist before" — especially with increasing conflicts with people.
They also condemned the USFWS for taking a "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach.
"That all the scientific papers are pointing in one direction, you’ve got to have thousands to hundreds of bears. And there’s no scientific dispute on that in the peer review literature. And that was the point we tried to make," said Matthew Bishop with the Western Environmental Law Center.
"They might be okay over the next several decades but that’s not recovery under the statute. Long-term recovery is more like, 50-plus, 100-plus years — and that’s what the science consistently saying. You need more bears," he added.
"Certainly we think it’s really important for the Service to decide the fate of Yellowstone bears based on current science — not science that’s stale at this point, added Tim Preso who is an attorney for the plaintiffs.
As with any Endangered Species lawsuit, case law becomes increasingly important. During Thursday’s gearing everything from marbled murrelets to Arctic grayling to wolves we discussed as both sides tried to convince Judge Christensen of their opposing viewpoints.
State and federal attorneys argue grizzly numbers "are improving:" which is "something to celebrate" and that "the bears are doing great".
The animals would remain under the watchful eye of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and any de-listing would allow biologists to focus recovery in the Bitterroot, Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Cabinet-Yaak, addressing the connectivity question of where bears wander while building public support for recovery.
"Well, I think people are watching the case very closely. But my comments on public support are that it may not be universal. For some people it’s support, for some people it’s tolerance," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks attorney Bill Schenk. "But it’s absolutely essential if we’re going to have bears on the landscape over the long run in Montana. We need to maintain it. We need to cultivate it."
"It feels historic. And the defendants made a really weak case, saying people are tired of it and they want it to be over. And yeah, we’re getting tired. but we have to do the job right. And the feds got caught cutting the corners," said Rick Bass who authored the book Save the Yellowstone Grizzlies.
Judge Christensen’s decision to issue the temporary restraining order gives him at least 14-days to make a final ruling.