BILLINGS, MONTANA - U.S. officials said Wednesday that they would review the recent lifting of protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears in light of a court ruling that retained protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes.
About 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park lost their threatened species status on July 31, opening the door to future trophy hunts in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
But on August 1 a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., said in the wolf case that wildlife officials needed to give more consideration to how a species' loss of historical habitat affected its recovery.
In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it was now seeking public comment on the ruling's potential implications for Yellowstone bears.
Like wolves, grizzly bears have seen a strong recovery over the past several decades in isolated regions of the U.S., but remain absent from the vast majority of their historical range.
Grizzlies still are protected as a threatened species outside the Yellowstone region and Alaska.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Steve Segin said Yellowstone's bears would remain off the threatened list and under state jurisdiction while the review was pending. The agency plans to release its conclusions by March 31.
'Fatal flaws' in decision
Andrea Santarsiere with the Center for Biological Diversity said Wednesday's announcement was an attempt to paper over what she called "fatal flaws'' in the government's decision to lift protections. The group is a plaintiff in one of six pending lawsuits seeking to restore protections for Yellowstone grizzlies
"Yellowstone's grizzly bears remain at risk and no amount of bureaucratic jujitsu by the Trump administration will change that fact,'' Santarsiere said.
The question in the Great Lakes wolf case was whether some members of an animal population can meet the legal definition of recovered even while the species continues to struggle or is nonexistent elsewhere.
A three-judge panel concluded federal officials erroneously considered the status of the Great Lakes population in a vacuum, leaving wolves elsewhere in the country in "legal limbo.'' The judges added that the agency had created a "backdoor route'' for lifting protections on still vulnerable populations.
Yellowstone's bears make up one of the largest populations of grizzlies in the Lower 48 states. They've been isolated for decades from other concentrations of bruins, including an estimated 1,000 grizzlies in northwest Montana.
Wildlife advocates say their isolation leaves Yellowstone bears subject to problems with their gene pool. Government biologists say that's a minor issue because it would take many years for any consequences to emerge.