On June 22, 2017, the United States Department of the Interior announced that grizzly bears within Yellowstone National Park will no longer be protected. This move has angered Native American leaders across seven states who say that the grizzly bears are an important religious symbol to them. Therefore, they believe that the bears should continue to be protected under religious liberty laws.

Grizzly Bear Protection

The bears received special protection starting in 1975. Since that time, the bear population in Yellowstone has expanded from approximately 150 to more than 700 mainly through public education campaigns about not feeding trash to bears.

Control Returned to States

The ruling by the Department of the Interior returns control back to the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Those states all have preliminary plans to allow people to hunt the bears that the Native Americans see as religious symbols. The states have promised that should the population fall to under 600 that hunting will immediately cease.

Religious Liberty Case

In addition to seeing the bears as a violation of their religious liberty, tribal leaders say that they are very upset that they were not contacted before the grizzly bears were removed from the protected animal list. Local ranchers had argued that the bears needed to be removed so that farmers could shoot them if they were on their property where they are potentially killing livestock.

Grizzly Bear Case Goes to Court

The case has now ended up in court where it will be decided by a district judge. The United States Interior Department plans to delist grizzly bears living in other areas of the Western United States if they are successful in court. The current plan is to slowly delist them over the next five years.