Federal judge blocks first trophy hunt of Yellowstone grizzlies in 40 years

Federal judge blocks first trophy hunt of Yellowstone grizzlies in 40 years
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A federal judge in Montana issued a court order late Thursday temporarily blocking the first trophy hunt of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park in more than 40 years.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen issued a 14-day restraining order, siding with environmentalists and native American groups who oppose the hunt.

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The order came two days before Wyoming and Idaho were scheduled to allow licensed grizzly hunts that could lead to as many as 23 bears being killed for sport in the two states.

“The threat of death to individual grizzly bears posed by the scheduled hunt is sufficient” to demonstrate the threat of “irreparable injury,” Christensen wrote.

He added that the groups raised “serious questions going to the merits” of their case, the low bar necessary for a restraining order.

The decision is part of a case in which the conservation and indigenous groups are seeking to reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone grizzly, and to overturn the Trump administration’s decision to remove protections. The litigants argued that the hunt slated to start Saturday would cause irreparable harm to the grizzly bear species.

Christensen heard oral arguments in the case earlier Thursday, but said he would not immediately rule on the case, which prompted the groups’ requests for a restraining order.

“As we explained to the judge today, the removal of protections for Yellowstone’s iconic grizzlies was illegal. The bears should not be killed in a hunting season made possible by an illegal government decision,” Tim Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice representing some of the litigants, said in a statement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in June 2017 that grizzlies would no longer be listed as a threatened species in and around Yellowstone, leaving states to decide on hunting rules. That announcement corresponded with a slight rebound in the grizzly population after it had fallen to several hundred in the lower 48 states in 1975.

Grizzlies now number fewer than 2,000.

The 2017 delisting decision by the Trump administration affected about 700 grizzlies in the Yellowstone area in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Environmentalists opposed the move, saying removing grizzlies from the larger population was biologically unsound. Native American groups that revere the grizzly as sacred also opposed the administration's 2017 decision.

--Updated at 10:04 a.m.