Conservationists sue over ‘incidental take’ of grizzlies in Grand Teton N. P.

Western Watersheds and Sierra Club say the ‘incidental take’ of 4 bears is wrongly based on an “arbitrary and capricious” analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-

News Release

Washington, DC – Conservation groups have filed a legal challenge against two federal agencies for approving the killing of four grizzly bears, a threatened species, within Grand Teton National Park in northwest Wyoming.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday, April 3, by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, targets September 2013 actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service to allow the lethal “taking” of four grizzly bears over the next seven years in connection with a fall elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park.

“Authorizing the killing of four grizzly bears in a national park is not good management for grizzlies or national parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The government should be working to eliminate grizzly mortality threats, not handing out authorizations to kill grizzly bears in one of our nation’s premiere national parks.”

The agencies authorized the challenged grizzly “takings” in response to an incident on Thanksgiving Day 2012 in which three hunters participating in the Grand Teton elk hunt shot and killed an adult male grizzly bear. Anticipating more such conflicts as the region’s grizzlies increasingly turn to meat-based food sources such as hunter-killed or wounded elk, federal officials in September 2013 approved the killing of four more grizzly bears in connection with future elk hunts in Grand Teton through the year 2022.

In doing so, however, government officials failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the expected Grand Teton “takings” together with other grizzly bear mortality that federal agencies have authorized. The authorized killing of these four grizzlies, when added to the amount of other similar grizzly “take” determinations issued by FWS and currently in effect for other actions in the Greater Yellowstone region, could result in the killing of as many as 65 female grizzly bears in a single year. This level of mortality exceeds sustainable levels for female bears set by government biologists by more than three times.

“Allowing four additional grizzly bears – a threatened species – to be killed in one our nation’s most iconic national parks, without even requiring significant measures to reduce conflicts between people and bears, is inexcusable,” said Bonnie Rice with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region.”

“Throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appears to have forgotten basic math,” added Jonathan Ratner of Western Watersheds Project. “They have been handing out permits for the killing of grizzly bears like candy but they have conveniently forgotten to add up all of the take they have authorized.”


Federal biologists acknowledge that the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population has flattened over the past decade. Recently, the grizzly population has been faced with the loss of two of its most important food sources in the Yellowstone region—whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout—due to changing environmental conditions driven in part by a warming climate. In the wake of these changes, scientists have documented the bears’ transition to a more meat-based diet, but that diet leads to a greater potential for conflict with human activities, resulting in more grizzly mortalities.

Such increasing grizzly bear mortalities are of particular concern because analysis of government grizzly bear conflict and mortality data shows a declining population trend for the Yellowstone-area population from 2007-2013. Veteran grizzly biologist David Mattson documented these findings in a declaration supporting the conservationists’ challenge.

In its decision , FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing associated with the Grand Teton elk hunt would remain within sustainable levels. However, the conservationists contend that FWS cannot rely on compliance with sustainable grizzly mortality thresholds to justify additional killing of Yellowstone bears unless federal officials consider the impacts of all the grizzly bear mortality they have anticipated across the region.

The Grand Teton elk hunt results from a misguided program of winter elk feeding on the nearby Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge. The longstanding elk feeding program began for the altruistic purpose of sustaining elk through the harsh Northern Rockies winter. More recently, however, the crowding of elk on winter feed lines has been documented to subject the elk to a severe threat of wildlife disease mortality that outweighs the benefits of feeding. Further, the practice has led to the artificial inflation of the elk population such that the extraordinary step of hunting in a national park—with associated grizzly bear mortality—has been deemed necessary to control elk numbers.

Matteson Declaration:


  1. Larry K Avatar
    Larry K

    If we tolerate or excuse a crime long enough people will not consider the act a crime. Re:”The Bundy Credo”.

  2. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    So if four grizzlies are killed by elk hunters before 2022, the Grand Teton elk hunt would be terminated since the quota would be met.

    I thought I read where grizzlies are adapting to a more plant based diet as Yellowstone cutthroat trout and whitebark pine beetles have declined, yet this article claims they are eating more meat. I’m sure some of the meat is coming from wolf kills. Either way, if hunters are bear observant and practice proper food storage, there will be minimal need for take.

  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    History does not support people being bear observant or storing food properly either. This is a terrible, again overly optimistic idea and I hope it is stopped.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    It’s almost amusing how ‘creative’ wildlife departments can get while creeping towards a complete delisting. 🙁

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      So true…+1

  5. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    Why don’t they just give the Grizzes their space and end the elk hunts in GTNP? Isn’t there enough human encroachment on their shrinking habitat already? Seriously, I never could understand why elk hunting is permitted in GTNP. It should be “off limits” to hunters there–the Grizzes and other wildlife deserve a break from yet another intrusive human activity.

  6. Marc Bedner Avatar

    I note the description of the situation: “Allowing four additional grizzly bears – a threatened species – to be killed.” Is this what we can expect if the grey wolf is reclassified as “threatened,” as the HSUS and others are proposing?

    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      What the USF&W Service has done regarding this grizzly bear “take” permit in Grand Teton Nat. Park is illegal, which is why the Sierra Club and the Western Watersheds Project are taking them to court, with EarthJustice as their attorney.

      1. Gary Humbard Avatar
        Gary Humbard

        Ed, I wasn’t aware that you are a judge of the court.

        I’m not an attorney but during my NEPA career I became aware of legal requirements regarding the ESA. Regulatory agencies (NMFS and USFWS) allowed the management agency I worked for a certain number of “takes” within a given time period. I’m fairly certain the USFWS consulted with the US Justice Department” before they allowed these four takes.

        It would be fantastic if no grizzlies were killed by humans but considering that 14 were killed in 2014 within the GYE, the killing of four within the next eight years is minimal effect to their population.

        The biggest issue with wildlife conservation is protection of habitat so I’m going to go write my monthly donation check to The Vital Ground Foundation now.

        1. Ed Loosli Avatar
          Ed Loosli

          Stay tuned… Earth Justice knows the law and has won more cases than it has lost. I am curious if “Vital Ground Foundation” allows hunting on it’s acquired lands?

          1. Gary Humbard Avatar
            Gary Humbard

            The Vital Ground Foundation does not technically “acquire” lands but instead purchases perpetual conservation easements from willing private landowners. The landowners enter into a legal agreement requiring that the property will remain undeveloped and that if needed, it will be restored.

            The lands Vital Ground targets are those lands that are critical links for large animals such as grizzlies, wolves, wolverine etc to use as safe corridors to disperse from one area to another.

            I do not know whether hunting is allowed on these conservation easements, but I seriously doubt it since their mission is to protect lands and the different species that live there. They have a decent website @ The Vital Ground Bart the Bear (numerous movies) was their original ambassador.

  7. Maura Avatar

    I guess “threatened” species is a word on paper only and it depends how government agencies are feeling that day. Let’s look at what Western Australia has been doing to “threatened” sharks in response to humans entering their territory (during their migration BTW) and shark attacks occurring: culling or the selective slaughter of threatened sharks. How stupid is man?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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