JACKSON, Wyo. (AP)
A federal judge has allowed a hunting group to intervene in a lawsuit in which conservation organizations are challenging a federal move to strip grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone area of Endangered Species Act protections. U. S. District Judge Edward Lodge in Idaho granted a request this past week from Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation to participate in the lawsuit as friends of the court. Grizzly bears were removed from Endangered Species Act protection last spring. Seven conservation groups sued over the grizzly delisting in June. They say grizzly bears still face threats from limited habitat, poor genetic diversity, and declining food sources. The groups that filed the lawsuit are the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, and Great Bear Foundation. Earthjustice and Advocates for the West represent the conservation groups. Safari Club officials said they want to prevent the grizzly bear from regaining protection under the Endangered Species Act. They said federal protection for the bear "deprives the states of their management authority," blocks states from preventing declines in deer, elk and moose populations and would prevent sustainable bear hunting in the future. "Through litigation efforts such as this one, (Safari Club International) can support the grizzly recovery efforts of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming," said Safari Club president Dennis Anderson. "It is time for animal rights groups to acknowledge that the Endangered Species Act was never intended to be the Endangered Species Forever Act." Anderson said grizzlies are a symbol of the American West and that their recovery in Yellowstone is a tremendous success story. "Now the latest chapter of that story must include the restoration of state management authority over this predator species," Anderson said. Scientists say the total greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population is thriving, with an estimated 571 animals. However, they say female grizzly deaths are approaching the threshold that could trigger a review of whether new federal protection could be required. About 18 female grizzlies over 2 years of age have died so far this year from hunting accidents, management removals, and natural causes. If female mortality exceeds 9 percent of the population for two consecutive years, bear management officials from state and federal agencies would have to hold a management review that could put grizzlies back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.