Congress could do end-around on griz ruling

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A grizzly bear feeds on whatever it found under this stump in this file photo. (Chris Peterson photo)

Montana’s two senators have weighed in on a recent court ruling that placed grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem back on the Endangered Species List.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had illegally delisted the bears in 2017 from the Endangered Species List, in part, because they’re genetically isolated from other grizzly bear populations in the West.

The ruling has broad implications for delisting bears in Northwest Montana, where about 1,000 bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

“We need to let the best available science drive our wildlife management decisions, while also consulting with Montanans to make sure our economy and our outdoor heritage are protected,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement last week.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, had a different view.

“This is disappointing news as earlier this year Department of Interior removed the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act based on sound science. States are the best managers of species within their borders, and I will continue to work with the state of Montana and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area once and for all,” Daines said.

The Crow Tribe, supported by a host of environmental groups, brought the suit after Wyoming and Idaho announced they would have trophy hunting seasons on bears outside the national parks. Idaho had a one bear limit, but Wyoming’s season would have allowed up to 22 bears to be shot. Montana decided not to have a hunt.

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes Yellowstone National Park, has about 700 bears, but they’re largely isolated from the NCDE population.

A Republican-controlled Congress could step in and write legislation to take bears and a host of other species off the Endangered Species List.

Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barasso, who is also the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has drafted legislation that includes a provision to block courts from intervening in decisions to lift protections of species for five years after those decisions are made.

In the Republican-controlled House, there’s a move to remove protections for wolves across the nation.

Wolves were taken off the Endangered Species List in Idaho and Montana in 2011 when Congress passed legislation that overrode the ESA and delisted the species. Wyoming’s wolves were later delisted as well.

Today, all three states allow wolf hunting. In 2016, the state estimated it had about 850 wolves. Hunters and trappers annually harvest about 250 wolves.

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