Humane Society files suite against Zinke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula federal court

The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal district court in Missoula against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its decision to prematurely eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The named defendants in the suit are: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Agency of the Department of Interior; U.S. Department of Interior; Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior; Greg Sheehan, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Jim Kurth, Deputy Director of the U.S. FWS.

The Humane Society and other environmental groups had threatened to take Zinke and his department to court if endangered species protections were removed for grizzly bears.

In June, Zinke announced that grizzlies would no longer receive such protection.

Grizzlies have been protected under the Endanger Species Act since 1975. At that time, only 136 of the iconic bears lived in the Yellowstone region, according to Associated Press reports.  The grizzly population is now about 700 in Yellowstone National Park.

“The Administration is turning over management to states agencies that have allowed politics to trump science when it comes to predator management,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said in a release. “De-listing is prescription for needless, dangerous levels of killing of one of America’s rarest carnivores. The number of people who want to watch grizzlies and keep them alive is vastly larger than the small universe of people who want to kill them for their heads. Maintaining federal protections is the right moral decision, and also the economic action.”

The lawsuit filed in Missoula alleges that the U.S. FWS violated the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by delisting grizzlies without considering the best science regarding ongoing threats to their survival. Those threats include the continued decline of staple food sources causing increased human-bear conflict as more bears venture outside Yellowstone in search of food.

Hunting grizzlies will not be allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, there will be no buffer zone in the event the bears travel outside the park and are hunted.

According to the Human Society, Yellowstone park managers have reported record numbers of bear deaths in recent years with 61 confirmed deaths in 2015 and 58 last year.