U.S. judge orders federal protection restored to Yellowstone grizzlies

PINEDALE, Wyo. (Reuters) – A federal judge on Monday ordered Endangered Species Act protections restored to grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, halting plans for the first licensed trophy hunts of the region’s grizzlies in more than 40 years.

FILE PHOTO: A grizzly bear roams through the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S. on May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana, sided with environmentalists and native American groups by overruling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to strip the grizzlies of their status as a threatened species, the court order said.

FILE PHOTO: A grizzly bear and her two cubs approach the carcass of a bison in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, United States, July 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo/File Photo

The Trump administration’s decision in June of last year to “de-list” the grizzly, formally proposed in 2016 during the Obama era, was based on agency findings that the bears’ numbers had rebounded enough in recent decades that federal safeguards were no longer necessary.

The de-listing, welcomed by big-game hunters and ranchers, had applied to about 700 Yellowstone-area grizzlies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Environmentalists countered that treating those bears separately from other grizzly populations in Montana and elsewhere in the lower 48 states was biologically unsound and illegal under the Endangered Species Act.

The judge’s ruling, if upheld, would make permanent a court order barring Wyoming and Idaho from going ahead with plans to open grizzly hunting seasons allowing as many as 23 bears in the two states to be shot and killed for sport.

Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler

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