Ranking Member Grijalva Introduces a Bill that Permanently Protects the Grizzly Bear & Honors Tribal Sovereignty Agreements

Washington, D.C. – To respond to the Department of the Interior’s controversial decision to remove endangered species protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act (H.R. 3894) at a press conference today surrounded by Tribal leaders and environmentalists. This bill would ensure that grizzly bears are permanently protected for their ecological and cultural value and guarantees Tribes have a role in conserving and managing the species. Grizzly bears are considered sacred by many Tribes, but today only a small fraction of the historic grizzly populations exist in the lower 48 states.

The bill is strongly supported by a coalition of 50 Tribes and conservation groups. It would:

  • Ban trophy hunting and non-discriminatory predator control measures that may result in taking of grizzly bears on public lands
  • Permit take and possession of grizzly bears only for certain purposes
  • Require consultation with tribes before issuing permits and before any major federal action that could impact grizzly bears or their habitat
  • Add tribal members to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee
  • Create a process for reintroduction of grizzly bears to suitable land of wiling Tribes

The Trump administration announced in June that they’re lifting Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The decision received immediate backlash from Ranking Member Grijalva, the tribal community and environmentalists who said the decision ignored the objections of scientists and tribal leaders who expressed concerns over the irreparable harm to the grizzly bears long-term survival and Tribal sovereignty agreements. Shortly after the announcement, a coalition of tribal and conservation groups challenged the decision in court by stating that the delisting decision did not consider the best available science regarding ongoing threats to the grizzly population.

“It’s no surprise that the Trump administration ignored the voices of the scientists and tribal leaders who pleaded for continued protection for the Yellowstone grizzly bear,” Grijalva said. “My bill ensures those voices will no longer be silenced and puts an end to allowing political decisions to threaten the future of grizzly bears or their habitat. It is our duty to protect the grizzly bear for its ecological and cultural significance – regardless if it’s protected by the Endangered Species Act or not – and this bill makes sure that tribal voices and Tribal sovereignty agreements are respected in the process.”

Conservation groups and tribal leaders voiced their support for the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act (H.R. 3894).

Kelly Nokes, carnivore advocate with WildEarth Guardians said:

"This legislation represents an essential step toward remedying the Trump administration’s conservation failures and utter disrespect of Tribal rights in stripping the Yellowstone Ecoregion’s grizzly bears of vital Endangered Species Act protections. Grizzlies are not only an icon of the wild, but are culturally and ecologically significant and should never be trophy hunted."

Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States said: 

“Grizzly bears are an essential component of healthy ecosystems, but trophy hunting and aggressive predator control by states pose a great risk to these top predators. There are certain species that should be off-limits from trophy hunting, and the grizzly bear is one of them. We don’t hunt avian predators like Golden eagles or Bald eagles, and the mammals at the top of the food chain also should be protected from people who want to kill them for bragging rights.”

Chairman Brandon Sazue, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe of the Great Sioux Nation said:

“When we stood at Standing Rock, we stood as water protectors, as defenders of the sacred. We stood to protect the Missouri River. We stood to protect our treaty rights. When Secretary Zinke removed protections from the sacred grizzly in Greater Yellowstone, he imperiled the very headwaters of the Missouri River. The grizzly’s ESA status protected those headwaters and sacred lands. Now those protections have gone. This grizzly is fundamental to our ceremonial lifeways. Our most sacred sites include narratives of this being. There were more grizzlies in the Black Hills than almost anywhere else until Custer carved the Thieves Road in 1874. He began the killing. The most famous photo of Custer from the Thieves Road is of him with a grizzly he trophy hunted. That photo is symbolic of the theft of the Black Hills. The history of the Lakota-Dakota people and that of the grizzly are intertwined, as are our futures. The Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act is central to the survival of both – our culture, and the Great Bear’s existence.”

Chief Stan C. Grier, Chief of the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy said:

“The Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy’s relationship with the United States is enshrined in Article VI of the Constitution through the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and 1855 Lame Bull Treaty. We are honored that the contemporary treaty we initiated, The Grizzly: A Treaty of Cooperation, Cultural Revitalization and Restoration, has been influential in the crafting of The Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act. The grizzly is foundational in our culture. In this ongoing struggle to protect the grizzly and the land the grizzly, in turn, protects, we find many of our struggles: the struggle to defend our sovereignty; the struggle to defend our treaty rights; the struggle to preserve and enforce consultation mandates; the struggle to defend and strengthen our spiritual and religious freedoms. The Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act reflects those imperatives.”

Ben Nuvamsa, Hopi Bear Clan and former Chairman of the Hopi Tribe said:

“The grizzly bear is central to the culture, religion, identity and sovereignty of Tribal Nations throughout the United States and Canada. Since time immemorial, the grizzly bear has been a sacred icon to us. As First Nations, we have the right to exercise our traditional ceremonies, many of which involve the grizzly. There are federal laws that protect the exercise of our religion, our lands, and our natural resources. To us, the grizzly is a sacred grandparent. To the government, the grizzly bear is considered a natural resource. Nonetheless, the federal government has a trust responsibility to Tribal Nations to protect their lands and natural resources, which includes the duty to engage in meaningful, government-to-government consultation on matters important to the tribes. The government failed to honor that mandate before Secretary Zinke delisted the grizzly bear from the ESA. The introduction of The Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act is a legislative step to address this devastating precedent and assault on the federal-Indian trust responsibility.”

Councilman Lee Juan Tyler, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho said:

“The grizzly is our relative, our brother. For the Shoshone-Bannock, the grizzly brings healing to us through prayers. Everybody can see that the grizzly is being crowded out of Greater Yellowstone, which will accelerate now that the grizzly is delisted from the ESA, with their habitat even more vulnerable to energy extraction, timber and livestock leases. There are areas where the Shoshone-Bannock can manage grizzlies, and areas where other tribes can manage them. Habitat needs to be found for the grizzly. Returning the grizzly to tribal lands, and tribes being partners in managing grizzlies and formulating their own grizzly bear management plans that reflect our cultural values, is an issue that needs to be addressed, and with The Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act, we can do that. This Act will move us towards returning to a balance. Right now, there is no balance, and our Mother Earth is sick. Our Mother Earth is suffering from so much contamination, and the effects of climate change. We can see how our Mother Earth is out of balance when we look at the grizzly bear. Today, the grizzly doesn’t even know when to hibernate and when to wake up, and that is a powerful sign that everything is off balance. The grizzly bear is key to returning the balance, and so we must find habitat for them. The federal government needs to partner with us, listen to us, and abandon its paternalistic approach toward us.”

Press Contact

Diane Padilla     

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