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Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears

The Hill logo The Hill 7/8/2020 Rachel Frazin
a large brown bear walking across a river: yellowstone grizzly © Getty Images yellowstone grizzly

A federal court on Wednesday upheld a lower court decision reversing a Trump administration policy that eliminated protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

A three-judge panel agreed with a prior ruling that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) acted contrary to the best available science in its determination that grizzly bears near the park would no longer be listed as a threatened species.

FWS delisted grizzlies in 2017, affecting about 700 bears in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

At that time, proponents said that increases in bear populations, conservation efforts and state protection policies justified delisting the creature. However, opponents said that threatened species protections were still necessary because it was too soon to tell if Yellowstone grizzlies had recovered.

In a statement on Friday, FWS expressed disappointment in the ruling.

"Our 2017 delisting rule was based on a rigorous interpretation of the law and supported by the best available science," the agency said. " Although grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain listed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to believe, based on the best available science, that grizzly bears in this ecosystem are biologically recovered and no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act."

Conservationists hailed the decision as a win that will prevent the creatures from being hunted as trophies.

"This is a tremendous victory for all who cherish Yellowstone's grizzly bears and for those who've worked to ensure they're protected under the Endangered Species Act," said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement "Hunting these beautiful animals around America's most treasured national park should never again be an option."

However, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called the decision "flat wrong."

"Wyoming - not an activist court - should determine how the bear is managed. The state has a strong, science-based management plan and it should be given a chance to succeed.," he said in a statement.

-Updated Friday at 12:50 p.m.


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