Cinco de Mayo, 2020 for Yellowstone Grizzlies

The Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments next week in the Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting case.  Arguments by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and dozens of conservation groups are scheduled for Tuesday, May 5 at 9:00 AM Pacific Time, 10:00 a.m. MDT.  You can watch the argument live through the Ninth Circuit website:    Look for the “Live Video Streaming of Oral Arguments and Events” links on the lower left corner of the website.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers got together and collectively chose 2 lawyers to argue for all Plaintiffs – Matt Bishop will argue for 13 minutes and Tim Preso will argue for 13 minutes.  All judges and lawyers will be participating remotely via video, so it will look like the Brady Bunch – a bunch of faces in squares.  If you can’t watch it live, the video will be archived on the Court’s website forever.  The 3-judge panel is comprised of Shroeder, Hurwitz, and Watford.  Grizzlies and their advocates have a good chance to win this appeal.

When the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (UFWS) delisted – removing Endangered Species Act protection – the grizzly bear in 2017, it tried to carve the Yellowstone population out of the larger, Lower 48 states whole.   Delisting would have transferred bear management to the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, which planned to immediately open a limited grizzly hunting season.

In 2007, the USFWS had tried to delist the Yellowstone grizzly but were ordered to relist after conservation organizations successfully argued that the government hadn’t considered the bears’ rapidly declining food sources.

The primary obstacle for the government to overcome on appeal is the argument that before grizzly bears are delisted, the six distinct populations throughout the western United States need to be connected. Grizzlies occupy only 2 percent of their historic range in the contiguous United States, and each population is confined to its own island on dry land.  These isolated grizzly populations are threatened with extinction in the long-term if they can’t move, and live, between these last secure fragments of what was once one great, connected ecosystem.   

The Trump administration’s decision to “de-list” the Yellowstone grizzly, formally proposed in 2016 during the Obama era, was based on federal wildlife managers’ findings that the bear’s numbers had sufficiently rebounded in recent decades and no longer warranted federal safeguards to about 700 bears in the region. Fewer than 2,000 grizzlies are estimated to inhabit the Lower 48 states, and the species had remained under federal protection in five other regions outside of Yellowstone.  Before 1800, an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed from the Great Plains to the California coast, and south into Texas and Mexico.

The outcome of this case will either extend existing Endangered Species Act protection, or lead to state wildlife management/marketing plans, all calling for the first licensed trophy hunts for grizzlies in areas adjacent to Yellowstone park in more than 40 years. 

Anyone with a good heart and a little common sense will look at the bigger picture and root for the grizzlies on May 5. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

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