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Janet Barwick’s Blog

Grizzlies have their day in court

Janet Barwick

Posted November 23, 2011

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With Thanksgiving tomorrow, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given me a reason to be thankful!  On Tuesday, they ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) underestimated the potential impacts of a climate driven mountain pine beetle outbreak in whitebark pine—a tree that provides a key food for grizzlies, whitebark pine seeds. The court stated in their ruling that it was wrong for FWS to rely on population trend data prior to the collapse of whitebark pine to determine how the population would respond in the absence of whitebark pine in the future.  In the ruling, one Judge said that given the uncertain future of whitebark pine, the Service cannot take a “full speed ahead, damn-the-torpedoes” approach to delisting.

For decades, Louisa Willcox and others (myself included) have been working hard to ensure that the agencies consider every contingency before taking the serious step of removing federal protections from Yellowstone grizzlies and placing management into the hands of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana—states that have shown a less than favorable attitude toward carnivores including bears and wolves.  In a small way, this decision is a validation of the hard work of hundreds of other conservationists who had urged the FWS to take a precautionary approach to delisting—to look before it leaps.  Regardless, the arguments and pleas made by nongovernmental organizations and advocates have fallen on deaf, and sometimes hostile, ears.

With this decision, I hope that the agencies will refocus their mission and redouble efforts to protect these wild and iconic animals in this rapidly changing environment. But if the past in any indication of the future I would be willing to bet against it.

For now, Yellowstone grizzlies have had their day in court and can retreat to their dens knowing that the full protection of the Endangered Species Act will stay with them.  That is something to be thankful for!

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