Native American tribes on Wednesday called for the U.S. government to halt plans to strip grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone of Endangered Species Act protection because it would open the way for trophy hunting in Idaho and two other states bordering the national park.
Government bear managers have said the 700-plus grizzlies in the Yellowstone area have exceeded their recovery goal of 500 bears and no longer need federal protection.
But more than 40 American Indian nations have formed a coalition called GOAL to oppose delisting an animal they consider sacred and central to their religious and cultural traditions. They are arguing that allowing hunters to kill them and either make them into rugs or mount their carcasses for display is abhorrent.
Grizzlies in the Lower 48 states were formally listed as threatened under the law in 1975 after being hunted, trapped and poisoned to the edge of extinction. The law broadly bans killing of protected creatures.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may float a proposal in coming weeks that would allow Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to manage bears that wander from Yellowstone into those states.
Ranchers and sportsmen in the Northern Rocky Mountain states support removing grizzlies from the federal list of endangered and threatened species, or delisting, claiming the growing numbers of bears in and around Yellowstone poses a threat to humans, livestock and prized big-game animals like elk.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior Department agency, has been negotiating with the three states about management of the bears should they be delisted. Tribes say that required consultation with them has been minimal or nonexistent, infringing on their sovereignty and violating federal trust responsibilities. They called for an indefinite halt to delisting.
“The Department of the Interior needs to institute a moratorium on the delisting of the grizzly bear until proper consultation is addressed with each affected tribal nation respectively, so we can get better solutions for the future of the grizzly bear and for our people,” Lee Juan Tyler, vice chairman of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho, said in a statement.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday, a federal holiday. But a spokesman said last week that the agency had consulted with five tribes at that point and planned a webinar and conference call on Friday.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Toni Reinhold)