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Lawsuit filed challenging Montana's unconstitutional regulations for hunting grizzly bears

The Humane Society of the United States

Center for Biological Diversity

Animal protection and conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission's illegal, fast-tracked adoption of grizzly bear hunting regulations that open the door for trophy hunting once the bears are stripped of Endangered Species Act protections. A final rule removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list is expected as early as November.

The Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity and Bozeman resident Clint Nagel filed the suit after citizens concerned about Montana’s trophy-hunting plan were denied access to the full content of the regulations, unlawfully limiting their ability to voice informed opinions on the controversial plan. Despite this violation of the rulemaking process, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt the regulations on July 13. It simultaneously ratified a tri-state memorandum of agreement with Idaho and Wyoming to divvy up quotas for grizzly hunts.

“I have two concerns over the issue of delisting of the grizzly bear: the future of the bear itself, and making sure the public understands and participates in decisions about how the bear will be managed if delisting occurs,” said Mr. Nagel, a retired U.S. Geological Survey employee and long-time advocate for Greater Yellowstone wildlife. “Because the state hasn’t provided sufficient details to the public, we just don’t know enough about how trophy hunting will be regulated, and how managers will prevent an unwanted decline in the overall population and genetic viability.”

The long-term harm caused by trophy hunting is well established in scientific literature. By specifically targeting the biggest and strongest males, trophy hunting reduces the genetic viability of a species and has cascading impacts on the social dynamics of apex predators, including increasing infanticide. And a recent study demonstrated that when states allow recreational trophy hunting of carnivores, it increases the rate of poaching by making killing more acceptable. 

“The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission has hidden the ball by proposing and adopting a regulation that was not made fully available to the public,” said Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife litigation at The Humane Society of the United States. “Expecting stakeholders, outside experts and the concerned public to comment on a regulatory proposal that was not even made accessible to them makes a mockery of their constitutional right to participate meaningfully in decisions about Montana’s wildlife heritage.”

In March 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to delist grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem and turn their management over to the states. Shortly thereafter, Montana – like Wyoming and Idaho – rushed to approve a trophy-hunting season that puts the recovery of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone in jeopardy.

“Recent polling shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose trophy hunting,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “By purposefully limiting public participation on the trophy hunting issue, Montana is trying to drown out these voices. Montana’s constitution and its laws require more.”

The plaintiffs are seeking to reopen the comment period on the regulations in order to give members of the public the opportunity to scrutinize and comment on the full content of the rule. They are represented by attorneys from The Humane Society of the United States and local counsel, Kristine M. Akland.

Media Contacts:

Chloe Detrick, cdetrick@humanesociety.org, 202-658-9091

Andrea Santarsiere, asantarsiere@biologicaldiversity.com, 303-854-7748