The state of Wyoming has filed a notice of appeal on a federal judge’s decision earlier this year to restore federal protections for the grizzly bears that live in and around Yellowstone National Park.
The three-page notice was filed a little more than two months after U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in removing Endangered Species Act protections from the Yellowstone bears in 2017, siding with the environmental groups and Native American tribes that challenged the delisting. Christensen’s ruling blocked planned grizzly hunts in Wyoming and Idaho.
Wyoming is an intervenor in the case. An appeal would take it to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. David Willms, a policy adviser to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, said the governor “strongly believes that bears have been recovered and that the delisting rules should be reinstated.”
“The governor doesn’t agree with the district court’s decision on grizzly bears,” Willms said.
But attorneys for the organizations that filed the lawsuit say the state doesn’t have the authority to file an appeal on its own. Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney, said the decision can only be appealed by the main defendant — in this case, the federal government.
“Non-(federal) government parties like Wyoming cannot appeal independently,” Preso said. “The question that remains open is whether the federal government is going to.”
Willms referred questions about the legal process to Wyoming’s Attorney General’s office. The office did not return a request for comment before deadline.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directed questions to the U.S. Department of Justice. Wyn Hornbuckle, a Department of Justice spokesman, declined to comment on the possibility of an appeal.
The appeal deadline is Christmas Eve.
Grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states were first listed as threatened in 1975. At the time, the number of bears in Yellowstone was estimated at fewer than 150. Now, the population is estimated at roughly 700.
Federal and state officials argued that population growth represents a full recovery, and that it was enough to justify delisting and allowing hunts. Wyoming and Idaho both planned hunting seasons that would have allowed the take of up to 23 bears this year. Montana did not plan a hunt.
But delisting opponents argued the bears still faced threats from climate change and changing food sources. They also argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service erred in delisting one portion of the Lower 48 grizzly bear population without seeing full recovery of the others, such as the bears that live in and around Glacier National Park.
Christensen sided with the plaintiffs in September, blocking the impending hunts and putting grizzly bear management back in federal hands.
It’s unclear if Montana or Idaho will join Wyoming in appealing the case. Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was unable to comment Thursday on Wyoming’s decision to file the notice. A spokesman for Idaho Fish and Game could not be reached before deadline.
The environmental and tribal organizations will be ready to fight any appeal. Andrea Santarsiere, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said they’ll be waiting to see whether the federal government files one.
“We’ll fight to ensure these amazing bears retain the safeguards they need to fully recover,” Santarsiere said in an emailed statement.