BILLINGS — U.S. officials will not restore federal protections for Yellowstone-area grizzly bears, despite a court ruling that called into question the government’s rationale for turning management over to states that are now planning public hunts for the animals, according to an announcement Friday in in the Federal Register.
The disclosure from the Interior Department follows a months-long review of a decision last year to lift protections in place since 1975 for about 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.
That review was launched when a federal appeals court said in a case involving gray wolves in the Great Lakes that the Interior Department needed to give more consideration to how a species’ loss of historical habitat affects its recovery.
Like wolves, grizzly bears in some parts of the U.S. have bounced back from widespread extermination, yet remain absent from most of their historical range.
Interior officials said in Friday’s filing that they disagreed with the wolf case ruling. They said Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population had recovered and noted that other populations of the animals living outside the three-state Yellowstone region remain protected as a threatened species.
Wyoming and Idaho have proposed limited public hunts for grizzlies this fall. Hunters would be allowed to kill as many as ten male bears and two females in Wyoming and one male and no females in Idaho.
Final decisions on the hunts are pending. Montana officials decided against a hunt this year.
Conservation groups and Native American Indian tribes have challenged the lifting of protections in federal court. They argue that killing grizzly bears would diminish the chances of Yellowstone’s bears re-populating other areas where grizzlies once roamed.
Andrea Santarsiere with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in that case, said Friday’s announcement reflects a belated attempt by federal officials to justify last year’s decision.
“They still occupy less than 5 percent of their historical range. That’s just not recovery,” she said.