Wyoming attorneys have signaled that they will appeal the court decision that cost the state its ability to manage grizzly bears, but the legal significance of that maneuver is up for debate because the state, for now, is going at it alone.
Representatives for Wyoming, which was an intervenor in the grizzly case, filed a notice of appeal Dec. 5, a very brief document that shed no insight into the state’s arguments. But unless the primary defendant — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — makes the same move, the state’s filing may not prompt the U.S. District Court in Montana to reconsider the case.
“They must know that their appeal is invalid unless the Fish and Wildlife Service also appeals,” Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney and Victor, Idaho, resident Andrea Santarsiere said. “I would guess they’re either trying to make a statement to the public, or pressure the Fish and Wildlife Service to appeal.”
There is a court-ordered deadline of Dec. 24 to appeal U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen’s September ruling that reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone-area grizzlies.
Fish and Wildlife’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator, Hilary Cooley, recently told a Wyoming legislative committee that she believed the prospects for a federal appeal aren’t good, according to the Powell Tribune.
“My personal feeling is we would not be successful on appeal,” Cooley told lawmakers, the Powell newspaper reported. “If we’re not successful, that’s two years we’ve wasted.”
Reached Thursday, Cooley said she could not comment on the potential for further litigation. The U.S. Department of Justice could not be reached by press time.
Since a nadir of an estimated 136 animals that were confined to Yellowstone National Park, grizzly bears in the region have bounced back to more than 700 in number.
Wyoming and Idaho wildlife managers believed the population was large and stable enough to hunt, and the states were days away from the first season in four decades when Christensen ruled on the case. The judge ruled that Fish and Wildlife misinterpreted science about genetic connectivity, and that the agency erred by allowing the states to change how they count grizzlies.
Adrian Miller, a Billings, Montana, attorney who signed onto Wyoming’s notice of appeal for state licensing reasons, declined to comment when reached Thursday.
David Willms, a policy adviser for outgoing Gov. Matt Mead, described the state’s notice as a “placeholder.”
“If we didn’t do anything at all, we would lose the right to appeal,” Willms said. “So we had to do something.
“We’re the first party,” he said. “I doubt we’ll be the last.”
Santarsiere, whose employer was among the plaintiffs, said she will be ready for round two.
“Obviously, we would like to see the Fish and Wildlife Service not appeal,” she said, “but if they do, we’ll be fighting vigorously.”