Montana opts not to open grizzly hunts due to court battles

By Charlie Booher

Montana will not permit grizzlies to be hunted this season, despite the lifting of Endangered Species Act protections for the bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. ©Yellowstone National Park

While Idaho and Wyoming may offer limited grizzly hunts this year, Montana officials are postponing any decision to allow hunts there, citing ongoing court battles.

The three states are permitted to create grizzly (Ursus arctos) hunting seasons in the wake of last year’s delisting of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) distinct population.

On June 22 the USFWS announced that this population had recovered to a point where federal protections could be removed. The Service estimates 700 individuals are in this distinct population segment, which once numbered fewer than 136.

“This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” Interior Secretary Zinke said in a June 2017 press release. “The culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners. As a Montanan, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

Since 1975, wildlife managers in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana have collaborated with the USFWS to form a comprehensive management plan for this population. Any hunt that is offered by the states must be within the scope of this plan.

Native American Tribes and environmental groups have filed several lawsuits to reverse the delisting. One such case was filed on Aug. 30, 2017 by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the National Parks Conservation Association. The plaintiffs claim “the Service’s decision irrationally and unlawfully ignored critical factors.” This suit also cites the grizzly’s cultural and spiritual relevance for the Cheyenne tribe.

With this population of grizzlies off of the federal endangered species list, states were tasked with managing these populations. These three states worked collaboratively to delegate quotas via a tristate memorandum of agreement, which granted Montana an allowance of six males and one female that could be taken by hunters

The Montana wildlife commissioners voted unanimously on Feb. 15 to postpone the hunt indefinitely. While this does not mean that there never will be a grizzly hunt in Montana, one will not occur in the next year.

Commissioners said that the vote was taken to prevent the hunt from being used by organizations to justify court attempts to restore Endangered Species Act protections for the population.

Read The Wildlife Society’s standing position on Hunting, on the Endangered Species Act, and the Final Position Statement Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Charlie Booher is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Charlie's articles.