“The grizzly is foundational to many Indigenous cultures,” said Rain Bear Stands Last, who assisted plaintiffs with the lawsuit and is the executive director of the Global Indigenous Council, a body of Indigenous tribes from around the world. “Had the decision gone against tribes,” he said, ”it would have set a devastating precedent.”
In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service removed the grizzly bear from its list of endangered species, prompting conservation groups, tribes and individual citizens to sue. The delisting was overturned in District Court a year later, which forced Wyoming and Idaho to cancel planned grizzly bear hunts. (Hunting grizzly bears is not allowed in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks.)
Those in favor of delisting the grizzly bear, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, point to the increased grizzly population as a conservation success story, but one that can pose threats to livestock and humans.
The Wildlife Service was joined in the lawsuit by the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and private hunting and farming organizations including the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association of America.
Environmentalists argue that more needs to be done to protect the grizzly, and that climate change and a fluctuating food supply could lead to a population decrease.
Sarah McMillan, a spokeswoman for WildEarth Guardians, a conservation group involved in the lawsuit, said allowing hunting outside the park would prevent interaction between groups of grizzly bears across the country, jeopardizing the long-term viability of all North American grizzly bears.
“It’s like a kill zone right outside Yellowstone National Park, and those are exactly the kind of bears that need to be dispersing and providing that genetic connectivity,” she said. “So it’s not just the individual bears being killed — even though I and many others find that appalling — it’s that it puts the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population at risk of the extinction vortex.”