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Tribes and Environmentalists Fight to Protect Yellowstone Grizzly From Hunters

Pawnee take stand against delisting Yellowstone grizzly, while conservationists sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife over bear killing to safeguard elk hunt.
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The Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma has joined the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in opposing the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly from endangered species status, in particular because such a move would allow trophy hunting, leaders say.

RELATED: Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Oppose Delisting of Yellowstone Grizzly

At the same time, on April 6 a group of conservationists and tribes sued over the hunting of grizzlies that interfere with the sanctioned elk hunt in nearby Grand Teton National Park, Reuters reported.

“Tell them the Pawnee Nation means business,” Pawnee Councilman Adrian Spottedhorsechief said in a statement issued in conjunction with Guardians of Our Ancestors’ Legacy (GOAL), an advocacy group.

Grizzlies numbered in the tens of thousands when Lewis and Clarke first crossed Turtle Island heading west in the 1800s. But as with many animals that came across the paths of European settlers, those numbers dropped to almost nil over the ensuing years. The animal was listed as Threatened in 1975, according to the National Park Service. With the animal’s population recovered and deemed self-sustaining, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been trying to strip the bears of their Threatened status. But they have met with opposition and have lost in court.

Now, tribes are getting onboard to keep the bears listed as threatened.

“If the grizzly is shorn of Endangered Species Act protections it will fall victim to the gun sight wildlife management practices of the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, all of which intend to open extravagant trophy hunting seasons for the wealthy on this being held sacred by a multitude of tribal nations,” the Pawnee said in the statement.

Key to the opposition is the difference in motivation when it comes to taking life, Pawnee leaders pointed out.

“Trophy hunting sentient beings only appeals to a tiny minority of a particular demographic within the U.S. population, and it is antithetical to the traditional cultures and subsistence practices of tribal people,” said Pawnee Business Council President Marshall R. Gover. “The Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, like the other impacted Tribal Nations, comes from a subsistence tradition, not a killing tradition. Our ancestors taught ceremony, responsibility, and reciprocity in our lifeway.”

Meanwhile the lawsuit filed on Friday April 3 by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project addresses the 2013 permission granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Service to allow up to four grizzlies to be killed over seven years, said the plaintiffs in a news release.

“Authorizing the killing of four grizzly bears in a national park is not good management for grizzlies or national parks,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso in a statement. “The government should be working to eliminate grizzly mortality threats, not handing out authorizations to kill grizzly bears in one of our nation’s premiere national parks.”