District Court judge extends block on grizzly bear hunt for another 14 days

A grizzly bear and her two cubs approach the carcass of a bison in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. (REUTERS file/Jim Urquhart)

A court suspension of state grizzly bear hunts will now continue through most of September.

With just hours remaining on his original restraining order, Missoula federal District Court Judge Dana Christensen extended his order Thursday, stopping the hunt for another 14 days for “good cause.”

Christensen wrote that the extension “only preserves the status quo” and will give him the time he needs to fully consider the arguments he heard during an Aug. 30 hearing in Missoula. Judges are allowed only one extension of a temporary injunction.

“There remain serious questions regarding whether FWS complied with (federal laws) in delisting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population. If the Court does not extend the temporary restraining order, as many as 23 bears may be killed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Their death would cause irreparable injury to the plaintiffs,” Christensen wrote.

After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stepped in last summer and delisted the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears, the state of Wyoming announced that this fall it would hold the first grizzly bear trophy hunt in more than 40 years.

Idaho also scheduled a hunt but for only one grizzly bear starting on Sept 1.

Wyoming Game and Fish would have started part of its hunt on Sept. 1 in districts outside of the original core Yellowstone monitoring area where hunters could kill up to a dozen bears.

The judge’s original injunction delayed the hunt for 12 bears, but the extension has almost doubled the impact. That’s because this Saturday, Wyoming intended to open hunting districts in the core monitoring area around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where an additional 10 male bears could be hunted. Hunting is not allowed inside the parks.

Biologists estimate that almost 700 grizzly bears live in the core monitoring area.

Some biologists argue that when combined with other bear deaths from road collisions and human conflict, the loss of up to 22 bears could set the population back to the point that it would start dwindling again.

During the hearing, attorneys for tribes and wildlife advocates argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not considered the impact of hunting and other human-caused deaths on the ability of grizzly bears to migrate between core habitat areas. As a result, the remaining grizzly populations that are still protected may be less able to recover or remain genetically viable.

“We’re certainly relieved that grizzlies have an additional stay of execution. We look forward to the judge’s thoughtful resolution of the deep flaws with the feds’ removal of protections from these imperiled bears,” said Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians wildlife program director.