9th Circuit Affirms Restoration of Endangered Species Act Protections for Grizzly Bears in Greater Yellowstone

Sep 28, 2020 | News

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a prior district court order which restored Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park, agreeing with the Appellees—Crow Indian Tribe et. al.—and the lower court’s decision on two important grounds.

First, in his affirmed decision this summer, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen observed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in delisting the bears without considering how reduced protections in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem would impact other grizzly populations in the lower 48 states.

“Thus, the Service entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem,” Christensen noted in his ruling. 

Next, he found that the federal government’s application of the ESA threats analysis was “arbitrary and capricious… the Service illegally negotiated away its obligation to apply the best available science.”

According to Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP attorney Jeffrey Rasmussen, who was the attorney for the Crow Tribe and multiple other tribal appellees, the federal government has to resolve these issues and then decide based upon the science whether the grizzly bears should be delisted.

“The district court and now the 9th Circuit both agreed that the United States did not have data which shows that the Grizzly Bears have recovered,” Rasmussen said. “We’re looking for stability and some expansion in the grizzly population around Yellowstone, but climate change is dramatically impacting the bears’ habitat and food sources. All of that science must be part of this decision, otherwise a decline is inevitable. We were excited to work on this case, because we want to prevent that decline.”

Rasmussen is working closely with Guardians of our Ancestors’ Legacy (GOAL) on this issue. Thirty-five tribal nations are currently members of this coalition to protect the grizzly. 

“The tribes worked hard to build this coalition, and their partnership demonstrates how important this issue is to tribes,” he said. “Most tribal nations believe that grizzly bears should be in the same category as bald eagles — sacred, and therefore protected. We’d like to see that come from this case.”

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson has offices in Louisville, Colorado, and Washington, DC. To learn more, visit nativelawgroup.com. 

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients. We take time to listen to, and fully understand, our clients’ concerns so we can develop responsive and appropriate solutions.