Marten Law PLLC: Despite Apparent Recovery, Climate Change Keeps Grizzly Bears on ESA List

In this Emerging Issues Analysis, Russell Prugh and Jessica Ferrell of Marten Law PLLC discuss how environmental groups for many years have attempted to use wildlife protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to force federal and state wildlife and natural resource agencies to take the impacts of climate change on protected species and habitat into account in their decision-making. These cases have sought to use existing statutory and common law theories to address climate change in the absence of comprehensive federal legislation.

“Recently, that strategy worked again, this time in a decision involving grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park,” the authors write. “In Greater Yellowstone Coalition v. Servheen ("GYC v. Servheen"), a U.S. district court in Montana blocked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the "Service") from implementing a final rule that would have removed the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears from the ESA's threatened species list.

“The court determined that the Service failed to adequately consider, among other things, the impact of global climate change on one of the grizzly bears' main food sources — whitebark pine nuts — and enjoined the Service's delisting decision.

“The opinion may be the first in which a court has prevented the delisting of a species based on the potential impacts of climate change, despite the species' apparent recovery.”

The authors note that ESA listing decision can have major impacts on a variety of industries and natural resource uses.

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