AWR Blog

Ninth Circuit Court Rules for Alliance for the Wild Rockies on Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Hazing

Contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies on their lawsuit trying to stop hazing of grizzly bears by Helicopters near Yellowstone National Park.

The Alliance contended that the low-level helicopter flights “harm and harass” grizzly bears that are known to use the area in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“This is an annual running battle,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Every spring the state of Montana and federal agents of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service haze bison to benefit the livestock industry and wind up harassing grizzly bears in their spring feeding habitat at the bears’ most sensitive time of the year. As long as they keep flying, we’ll keep filing to halt the helicopter harassment.”

Garrity said, “There is a considerable body of science that proves low-level helicopter flights ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears. Even the National Park Service’s own Report to Congress found that grizzlies ‘never become tolerant’ of low-level helicopter overflights and may ‘abandon’ their preferred habitat because of these flights.” Garrity said, “The agencies themselves have deduced that such displacement of grizzly bears may cause what is called ‘incidental take’ of grizzly bears — and that it is important to avoid disturbing the bears during the spring bear season from April 1-June 15 when the bears are coming out of hibernation and feeding as much as possible to rebuild their strength.”

Garrity said, “Today we won a major legal victory that establishes important legal precedent under the Endangered Species Act. The Ninth Circuit agreed with us that a group can file a lawsuit under NEPA and then later amend the lawsuit to add claims under the ESA after an ESA 60 day notice expires. This allows groups to file lawsuits with emergency requests for immediate injunctions right away, rather than having to wait 60 days to file the request for an injunction.”

Garrity said, “Also, today the Ninth Circuit cleared the way for us to continue to challenge helicopter hazing of grizzly bears. The Ninth Circuit found that we have standing to sue the federal agencies involved in helicopter hazing for non-compliance with ESA Section 7. This re-opens the courthouse door so that we can now sue to challenge the federal agencies’ most recent analysis on the impacts of helicopter hazing on grizzly bears.

Garrity continued, “With this ruling we can continue to challenge helicopter hazing to protect the grizzly bears that are harassed by this activity every year in the Yellowstone area.”

Garrity concluded, “The truly disturbing part of this is that the Yellowstone grizzly population isn’t expanding, it’s contracting,” Garrity explained. “In the period from 2002-2011, Yellowstone grizzly bear rates of fecundity (female bears with cubs) have declined, juvenile Yellowstone grizzly survival rates have declined, the population growth of Yellowstone grizzly bears inside the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone may have ceased.

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