This week, a U.S. judge will hear the arguments presented by Native American tribes and animal activists for the protection of recently demoted Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the endangered list. The removal of the grizzlies’ protection status has caused states such as Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to launch trophy hunting expeditions in and around Yellowstone National Park for the first time in over 40 years. All in all, 700 American bears are at risk of staring down the barrel since their elimination from the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Species in 2017 under the Trump administration.
While some states hailed the decision, along with hunters and ranchers who worried about bears preying on their livestock, Native Americans and conservation groups took matters into their own hands, filing lawsuits with the U.S. courts. “We feel all our beliefs, medicines, ceremonies and ancestral ways of life are being disrespected … because a few people want to kill grizzlies … to mount their heads on walls or make rugs for their floors,” explained Crawford White, part of the Northern Arapaho Elders Society, a Wyoming tribe that is supporting the suit for what it feels is a violation of religious freedom.
Constituents arguing for the hunt said that they met with tribal leaders before allowing up to 22 grizzly bears to be killed in the scheduled hunt, according to Renny MacKay, spokesperson for the Game and Fish Department. They maintain their stance that grizzly populations have exceeded targets for recovery measures and risk over-pouring into the surrounding area.
More than 7,000 people have applied to the lottery system, which is accepting 22 individuals into the hunt, one person for every bear to be killed. Some applicants include individuals in the conservation group “Shoot ‘Em with a Camera, Not a Gun,” which has scored at least one of the 22 licenses. The hunt is set to begin September 1 in Wyoming and Idaho, and groups are impatiently awaiting the trial’s commencement to find out whether or not the state of Montana will join as well.
The hearing is set for Thursday, and opponents will meet in the U.S. District Court of Montana. The judge presiding over the case will make the final decision whether to restore protective status to the Yellowstone grizzlies or give them up to the hunt.
Image via Yellowstone National Park