Environmental groups sue Interior to reinstate black bear protections

Environmental groups sue Interior to reinstate black bear protections
© Photo by Brad Young, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

A coalition of animal rights and environmentalist groups on Thursday filed a joint lawsuit against the Interior Department challenging a 2016 decision to delist black bears from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The lawsuit led by Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) argues that the survival of the black bear in Louisiana is dependent on the species being relisted as threatened. According to the suit, the Louisiana black bear, which is one of 16 black bear subspecies, has lost 99 percent of its historic population.

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The Louisiana black bear was first listed as threatened in 1992 but was declared recovered and removed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) in March 2016.

The lawsuit says that Interior's decision to remove the species from the threatened list and, therefore, erase its habitat protections was not made using the best available science.

The groups seek the court to invalidate the FWS's determination to remove protections for the bear.

"At the time of the Louisiana black bear’s listing as a threatened species under the ESA, the subspecies had been declining for the past 200 years and probably numbered fewer than 150 individuals. The listing likely saved the bear from extinction," the lawsuit reads.

"However, failure to use the best scientific data available and reliance on faulty scientific assumptions erroneously led to the delisting of the bear despite the fact that it has not achieved recovery. The delisting presents a continuing threat to the viability of the Louisiana black bear and its habitat."

Following the delisting, the FWS wrote on its website that the agency estimates that between 500 and 750 Louisiana black bears roam the country — a size the FWS says is about double the population at the time of its first listing.

While the Louisiana black beer delisting occurred under the Obama administration, the Interior Department under Trump has faced a number of criticisms for changes to endangered species protections and delistings, including a decision last June to delist Wyoming grizzly bears.

Wyoming announced in May it will hold a grizzly bear hunt in the fall — the state's first in 44 years.

This story has been updated