Hundreds of grizzly bears at a US national park could have their protected status restored after a court found flaws with a similar decision to de-list a breed of wolves.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing a decision made in July to strip the grizzlies at Yellowstone National Park of federal protections guaranteed by the Endangered Species Act, which has left the animals vulnerable to trophy hunting.
Safeguards for wolves of North America’s Great Lakes were subject to removal until an appeals court in Columbia decided the impact on the population – which in 2012 totalled nearly 3,000 in Minnesota, 815 in Wisconsin and 696 in Michigan – had not been properly evaluated.
As the government agency had used a similar formula to remove protection for the bears in Yellowstone, where the population is about 700, that decision is now being reconsidered and public feedback sought.
Environmental protection organisation WildEarth Guardians says it will take the opportunity to challenge the de-listing of the bears, which for now remain unprotected.
Kelly Nokes, the group’s large carnivore advocate, said: “The Fish and Wildlife Service should be withdrawing the rule instead of trying to paper over their mistakes with a review and public comment period.”
Prior to their place under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, the grizzlies were victims of hunting, poisoning and trapping, which saw their numbers in the Yellowstone region plummet to 136.
The bears – which are now under the management of states adjacent to the 3,500 square mile park, which is spread across Wyoming, Idaho and Montana – were targeted because they preyed on livestock and big-game animals such as elk, favoured by Americans who hunt for sport.
Meanwhile, two of North America’s other national parks remain the subject of a plan by Donald Trump to shrink them by up to 85% to “reverse federal overreach”.
Outdoor company Patagonia has sued to block the President’s cuts to Utah’s Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, arguing the move would strip them of much-needed protections and jeopardise a wealth of Native American artefacts, dinosaur fossils and rugged spaces.
The legal battle over the plans is expected to last for years.