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Obama-Appointed Federal Judge Puts Kibosh on Managed Grizzly Hunts in GYE Region

After halting it on two previous occasions, this activist judge sides with anti-hunters against USFWS findings.
Gabriella Hoffman
by Gabriella Hoffman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Judge Dana L. Christensen, Chief United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Montana appointed by former President Obama in 2011, has put a kibosh on the fall Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) managed grizzly bear hunt despite restoration efforts suggesting the bear population in question has been restored to healthy levels.

The federal judge put back Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections back on this strain of grizzly bears, despite findings from wildlife biologists and US Fish and Wildlife Service leading to its delisting in the area comprising southwestern Montana, eastern Idaho, and northwestern Wyoming. This comes after Christensen put a halt on the managed hunt on August 30th and September 14th. I documented and discussed this at length on my podcast, District of Conservation.

A document obtained by Montana Untamed found the decision, which is a huge blow to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

In this 48-page document, the U.S. District Court judge accused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for being negligent in their decision to delist the GYE grizzly bear and called the subsequent managed hunt where 24 grizzly tags were issued “objectionable.”

“Although this order may have impacts throughout grizzly country and beyond, this case is not about the ethics of hunting and it is not about solving human- or livestock-grizzly conflicts as a practical or philosophical matter,” U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote. “This court’s review, constrained by the Constitution and the laws enacted by Congress, is limited to answering a yes-or-no question: Did the United States Fish and Wildlife Service exceed its legal authority when it delisted the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear?”

“(T)he service entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem,” Christensen wrote. FWS also “illegally negotiated away its obligation to apply the best available science in order to reach an accommodation with the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

The judge failed to take conditions for the managed hunt into deep consideration. USFWS announced in June 2017 that the grizzly population in the GYE region would be delisted and have their threatened status updated.

“As a kid who grew up in Montana, I can tell you that this is a long time coming and very good news for many communities and advocates in the Yellowstone region,” said Secretary Zinke. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes; the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners. As a Montanan, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

Here’s more from Department of Interior and USFWS on that delisting:

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) Distinct Population Segment (DPS) consists of portions of northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho. Grizzly bear populations outside of this DPS in the lower 48 states will be treated separately under the ESA and will continue to be protected.

The GYE grizzly bear population is one of the best studied bear populations in the world thanks to the longstanding efforts of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST). Population and habitat monitoring efforts undertaken by the IGBST indicate that GYE Grizzly Bears have more than doubled their range since the mid-1970s. They now occupy more than 22,500 square miles, an area larger than the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. Stable population numbers for grizzly bears for more than a decade also suggest that the GYE is at or near its capacity to support grizzly bears. This decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was informed by over four decades of intensive, independent scientific efforts.

The managed grizzly hunt in contention only permits 24 of the 750 grizzly bear group to be legally harvested in this tri-state region. In fact, if a female was to be harvested during the grizzly season, the managed hunt would end. Steven Rinella’s Meat Eater blog highlighted how ESA protections restored the bear to healthy populations, meaning the managed hunt could help to prevent female bear mortality:

The recent delisting of the GYE grizzly bears should stand out and be celebrated as an example of how the ESA has worked successfully to recover a species. And once recovered, the management of that species should fall to state fish and game agencies-just as state management was successfully implemented in the case of gray wolves in the same part of the country…And just like wolves in the GYE, the grizzly bears that reside inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks will remain protected with no possibility of hunting. But part of the management of grizzlies in the states that comprise Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will necessarily include hunting a small number of bears outside the national parks. Although Wyoming’s management proposal for grizzly hunting is still in the early stages, it will be under intense scrutiny. Although we’d like to see meat salvage requirements be added to these regulations, it’s clear the state wildlife managers have put a lot of time and money into crafting a detailed management plan for grizzly bears in Wyoming. Montana and Idaho are also drafting management plans for grizzly bear hunts. And no one, especially state wildlife managers in these states, wants to see grizzly bears go back to being classified as a threatened species. For this very reason, Wyoming’s grizzly hunt will be closely monitored by state officials and the number of bears that can be legally killed will be extremely conservative, posing no threat to the longevity of the species. Under the proposed regulations, state wildlife managers will only be releasing a couple of tags at a time in order to control harvest quotas and strictly limit female mortality. Up to eleven bears and only two females are allowed to be killed within the “monitored” recovery area near Yellowstone. If two females are killed before the total quota is met, the hunt may be shut down to prevent further female mortality.

Western Bear Foundation wrote about the parameters of the managed hunt, suggesting it’s highly unlikely for all 24 grizzly bears to be harvested:

So the total available bears available for harvest in 2018 would technically be 24. That being said 24 harvests is highly unlikely. The DMA tags (Hunt Areas 1-6) operate a little differently than the non-DMA tag (area 7). The DMA harvest will be very restricted. Applicants will have to apply to be on a list. They will then be assigned a number. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will then call the 1st applicant and 2nd applicant on the list. Those individuals will then have the opportunity to pay for the grizzly permit . They can then hunt any open hunt area located within the DMA which is comprised of hunt areas 1-6. If they should be lucky enough to shoot boars then they department will move to next two on the list and so on and so forth until the total quota for the DMA units has been met. So the way this works is the amount of licensed hunters in the field at any given time shall not exceed the collective female mortality limit available. . This is a safety mechanism. It ensures that at no time there are more hunters than females left in quota. This is crucial guardrail built in by the Department to mitigate over harvest of females. This is a very important piece to the sustainability of not only the grizzly bear in the GYE but the sustainability of our grizzly hunting seasons. If this number is breached it could jeopardize the de-listed status of the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear. So if the first two hunters on the list go out and each shoot a bear, 1 male and 1 female the department will only call 1 hunter off the list next as there is only 1 female left in the collective mortality. If the 1st two hunters out of the gate in the DMA shoot sows the season is over regardless of how many boars are left in quota. So the 24 total is not guaranteed and actually highly unlikely. This is an important thing to remember when all those anti-hunters start chiming in on the total available bears in the harvest.

Anti-hunters and radical environmentalists are playing with fire by interrupting science-based wildlife management efforts in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem region. Most recently, an elk hunter guide named Mark Uptain was mauled to death by a grizzly sow and her yearling cub.

Further delaying the managed bear hunt could unfortunately lead to more human-bear interactions like this. Imagine had this aggressive female bear been legally harvested as part of the managed hunt? This 37-year-old husband and father of five would still be alive today. But no, the Disneyfication of wildlife management practices reigns supreme. Way to go, faux conservationists.

Hunters and supporters of real science-based wildlife management efforts need to band together. This judicial activist’s status on the bench should be equally re-evaluated. I’ll keep you posted on any updates related to this.


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