STYG Legal Update 🐻 8.25.23

Aug 24, 2023 | Get Involved to Save Grizzly Bears, Grizzly Bears In the News, Legal Actions

To STYG’s deeply appreciated and essential supporters,
After speaking with our attorneys, I’ve put together a brief update on our legal action regarding the killing of an Idaho grizzly cub by state officials in November of last year. The cub’s mother and sibling had been killed shortly before this with permission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), with zero evidence that any of them posed any form of threat to the people or properties they visited. The legal Complaint of Save the Yellowstone Grizzly against defendants USFWS and state officials the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) was filed on August 14th. Here’s what’s at stake.

STYG’s lawsuit seeks that the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho do the following:

  • Declare that Defendants acted illegally by killing the grizzly bear cub in violation of the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA’s) prohibition on take (killing) of a threatened species, per 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(B)
  • Enjoin (legally prevent) Defendants from engaging in lethal action against non-conflict grizzly bears that do not pose a threat to human safety without first taking non-lethal measures, such as tranquilizing, relocating, and using bear deterrent as dictated in the regulations
  • Enjoin Defendants from taking grizzly bears without clear and explicit authority for doing so from the USFWS
  • Award Plaintiff its reasonable fees, costs, and expenses associated with this litigation under 16 U.S.C. § 1540 (g)(4)

As of August 14, the Complaint has been filed and USFWS and IDFG have 60 days, or until October 24, to respond with an answer, admitting or denying the allegations made. The Defendants may well try to challenge STYG’s legal “standing” (Plaintiffs having proven to the court the legitimacy of adverse effects of an action inflicted upon Plaintiffs by Defendants) to bring our lawsuit or raise some other claim attempting to dismiss the entire case, but some of our staunchest supporters’ grizzly testimonies will likely show the court through their Motions of Standing what this threatened species personally means to themselves, their families, and their friends.

STYG’s lawyers expect that we will win over any surmisable counteractions the Defendants may come up with, and that the court will then set a scheduling order to establish other briefing and discovery deadlines. This will also likely begin the Defendants’ attempt to settle the case.   

Ultimately, STYG’s legal challenge is asking the court to find the following:

  • That USFWS first violated the ESA when it authorized the IDFG to lethally remove Grizzly 1089 and Cub 1 on November 9, 2022 pursuant to its exceptions for removal of nuisance bears in its regulations. (50 C.F.R. 17.40(b)(1)(i)(A)).
  • That IDFG violated ESA take prohibition for the unauthorized lethal removal of Cub 2 on November 10, 2022 pursuant to the same nuisance bear regulations.
  • That Court intervention is our only redress, despite the bears having been already senselessly killed. Internal communications show that personnel with the USFWS believed the Idaho Defendants had engaged in a take of Cub 2, and the USFWS did not initiate any corrective enforcement action as required by the ESA. Without a court order, this will further embolden IDFG and its agents to continue to act unilaterally and disregard the ESA and its lawful prohibitions.

The filed Complaint is available to our supporters for scrolling or downloading. To give you something of a more personalized introduction to our legal work, I spoke with Daniel Brister and Emily Wilmott, two of our lead attorneys at the Missoula firm of Ferguson & Coppes, PLLC. Here’s their appraisal of the situation.

“We are honored to work with Save the Yellowstone Grizzly to fight for the survival of threatened grizzly bears. STYG is a grassroots nonprofit that knows the bears and how to effectively advocate on their behalf.

“These three bears did nothing wrong. They didn’t demonstrate a single nuisance behavior. In fact, they showed a remarkable capacity to coexist on the periphery of the Tetonia community without getting into trouble or posing a threat to humans. Area residents were happy to have them there and celebrated their presence. The defendants’ killing of these bears was a clear betrayal of their mission and a blatant violation of the Endangered Species Act and agency guidelines.

“Whether through the actual killing of this mother grizzly bear and her cubs or through the authorization of their killing, Idaho Fish and Game employees and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have demonstrated that our government agencies can’t be trusted to follow or enforce the law. Thankfully, the Endangered Species Act has a strong citizen’s suit provision that enables organizations like Save the Yellowstone Grizzly to uphold the law when our government agencies fail or refuse to do so.”

  • Daniel Brister became an attorney after working for two decades as a grassroots environmental activist in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He feels very fortunate for his employment with Ferguson & Coppes, where can put his passion for environmental law to work protecting the wild lands and species of the Northern Rockies.
  • Emily Wilmott is also an attorney working on this case. She has successfully prosecuted related grizzly bear litigation, recently fighting against government approved projects that threaten grizzlies in the Yaak Valley. “It is a privilege to represent and work alongside Save the Yellowstone Grizzly and its committed members in holding the government accountable for its brazen disregard of its duties to protect this threatened species and uphold the Endangered Species Act.”

Bill here again. Folks, this is a major initiative by Save the Yellowstone Grizzly, an aggressive and uncompromising legal stance that is morally justified, scientifically supported, ecologically essential and legally sound. But most of all, STYG’s actions in the courts of law are another reflection of the holistic approach we’re applying to our mission, one that effectively combines communications along with filmic, literary, and legal methodologies to stand up like nobody else for the long-term recovery of grizzly bears, the vital incarnation of American wilderness.

Please support Save the Yellowstone Grizzly’s ongoing efforts by donating what you may and getting involved however you can. And stay tuned🐻✊🏻!