Court Sides with Safari Club International in Dismissing Legal Challenge
to Delisting of the Louisiana Black Bear
A U.S. federal district court in Washington, D.C. has dismissed a case challenging the removal of the Louisiana black bear from the federal threatened and endangered species list. Plaintiffs sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) over the 2016 delisting, and Safari Club International (SCI) successfully intervened to defend the USFWS’s science-based decision. The court relied on SCI’s arguments in dismissing the suit.
The recovery of the Louisiana black bear is a conservation success story. Louisiana black bears are one of 16 subspecies of the American black bear found throughout North America, but they are the only subspecies to have been listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The bears were listed as “threatened” in 1992 due to a reduced population and concerns regarding the loss of suitable habitat, which had declined by more than 80% across their historical range.
Considerable resources have been dedicated to restoring habitat, and more than 600,000 acres of habitat has been protected. By 2016, the population met the recovery criteria in the species’ recovery plan and the USFWS removed the bears from the threatened species list and returned management of the species back to the State of Louisiana. Suitable habitat for the bears has expanded by over 400% and previously isolated populations are now interconnected, which will help the bears to thrive Independent research funded by the USFWS found an almost 100% probability of the bear populations sustainably existing for the next 100 years.
In 2018, the delisting of the Louisiana black bear was challenged in court by multiple organizations and individuals. SCI was the only organization that intervened to defend the USFWS’s decision to delist the bears. In dismissing the suit, the court relied on arguments that only SCI put forward. The court ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown that delisting the bears caused any demonstrable decline in their population and that plaintiffs failed to prove any injury to their interests from potential development in the Atchafalaya Basin.
This case is a prime example of SCI’s value as a partner to the USFWS and state fish and wildlife agencies. SCI is honored and excited to have successfully defended science-based decision-making and played a key role in keeping the ESA from being further weaponized as a tool for anti-hunters.
The SCI Acadiana chapter worked closely with the SCI legal team by giving the team statements emphasizing the chapter members would make plans to hunt black bears once the season opens. One of the Acadiana chapter members said:
“Hunting is my heritage passed to me by my grandfather, my mother, my aunts and uncles, like millions of other hunters across this country. I believe a regulated, controlled hunting season based on the scientific research lead by Maria Davidson and other experts at LA Wildlife and Fisheries and other wildlife regulatory agencies will help to assure the conservation of the black bear in LA. We know that hunters and the funds generated from hunting licenses and equipment are important to the conservation of wildlife.”
SCI will continue to work with local SCI chapters, partner organizations, and the State to move towards reopening bear hunting in Louisiana. Having SCI chapters cooperate in litigation was and is integral to SCI’s ability to join lawsuits.
Although the State is unlikely to schedule a hunt in the near future, delisting is an important first step in implementing a hunt as a management technique.
As the bear population continues to grow, minimizing human-bear conflicts will be a necessary component of successful management. Regulated bear harvests have been utilized throughout North America to effectively manage bear populations. While long-term sustainability of the population is the agency’s first priority, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries hopes to provide bear hunting opportunities in Louisiana in the future, in accordance with their state bear management plan.
“After basing its decision completely on SCI’s arguments, a U.S. federal district court delivered a victory for conservation and hunters. SCI is proud to have stepped in to defend the Fish and Wildlife Service’s science-based decision to delist the Louisiana black bear as a threatened species under the ESA. The ESA was created to recover populations from the brink of extinction, and the Louisiana black bear is now a resounding success story. SCI celebrates this impressive victory for wildlife and science-based conservation,” said SCI CEO Laird Hamberlin.