Border Grizzlies Should Be Classified as Endangered Under ESA, Judge Rules

Published October 9, 2017

A federal district judge ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) erred by not changing the designation of a small population of grizzly bears along the U.S.-Canada border to endangered from its threatened status, under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In 2014, FWS determined the fewer than 50 grizzly bears roaming the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem along the U.S.-Canada border were not “on the brink” of extinction, had a stable population, and would likely increase to a target goal of 100 bears without government protections afforded by listing their habitat as endangered.

In response to the FWS decision, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued, claiming the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population would go extinct unless FWS listed the bears as endangered, which would tighten restrictions on logging, mining, and other human activities in the bears’ habitat.

In the August 22 ruling, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen stated FWS had used the “brink of extinction” justification only once previously. In determining the Cabinet-Yaak bears’ status as “warranting classification” as an endangered species, Christensen’s decision precludes FWS from interpreting the ESA as requiring an animal or plant species be on the brink of extinction before it can be listed as endangered in the future, unless the agency provides an explanation for why it used that standard and provides an adequate opportunity for public comment on the decision.

Judiciary ‘Hijacked’

Brent Mead, chief executive officer of the Montana Policy Institute, said the ruling shows how many judges have bought into the beliefs of radical environmentalists and reject the judgment of environmental scientists.

“The ruling in August is only the latest in a line of decisions where eco-absolutists have hijacked the judiciary to impose their ideology,” Mead said. “Judge Christensen is not a forest manager. He is not a wildlife biologist. Yet, like many judges, he substitutes his judgement on these issues for the judgement of the professionals at the Department of Interior and at the Forest Service.

“Earlier this year, Judge Christensen sided with the same radical groups to block a forest project whose goal was to reduce [potential forest fire] fuel in an area the Forest Service determined was at high risk of a dangerous fire,” said Mead. “In his ruling, he stated the area faced no imminent risk of fire. Well, that area blew up this summer, and Montanans spent months breathing the consequences of his decision.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.