UPDATE: Friday 14th September
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen is delaying the start of the first grizzly bear hunts in decades in the Rockies by two more weeks, according to the Associated Press. Opponents of the hunts in Wyoming and Idaho asked the judge Wednesday for another two-week delay while the judge considers whether federal protections for grizzlies should be restored.
After a hearing in Missoula, Montana, last month (see post below), Christensen initially put the hunt on hold for two weeks. That order was set to expire today, and hunt opponents argued that state officials could immediately allow bears to be killed.
The U.S. Interior Department in 2017 declared the animals no longer needed federal protections, allowing up to 23 bears be allowed to be killed in the hunts.
Opponents of the hunt praised the judge’s decision Thursday.
“There is simply no need to rush into a grizzly bear hunt, with potentially devastating consequences for this iconic species, when the merits of that hunt are being reviewed in federal court,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.
Environmentalists scored a victory yesterday afternoon when US District Court Judge Dana Christensen issued a temporary restraining order on grizzly hunts in Idaho and Wyoming as he considers whether the government was wrong to lift federal protections on the animals. Wyoming and Idaho had set Saturday as the opening day for the first grizzly hunting season in the Lower 48 states since 1974. The order will remain in effect for the next 14 days.
Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service took grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem off the Endangered Species List. The bears were on the verge of extinction in the 1970s but the population has hovered around 700 bears for the last decade.
“We’re thrilled,” said Mike Garrity, the executive director for plaintiff Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Now the judge has time to rule without grizzly bears being killed starting Saturday morning.”
The decision is bound to be a disappointment for outfitters and hunters who would have invested in a hunt this fall. Todd Hoese, an accountant, and hunter from Gillette, Wyoming, expressed disappointment in Christensen’s ruling:
“They’re just looking at it from the bears’ perspective,” he said. “The way that nature works is a balance and we don’t have that balance. …There are too many bears now.”
The population of grizzlies living in Yellowstone was classified as a threatened species in 1975 when their numbers fell to 136. The Fish and Wildlife Service initially declared a successful recovery for the Yellowstone population in 2007, but a federal judge ordered protections to remain in place while wildlife officials studied whether the decline of a major food source, whitebark pine seeds, could threaten the bears’ survival.
The judge’s restraining order lasts two weeks, so it is still possible the hunt could be reopened after the court has more time to deliberate the arguments from environmental groups and US Fish & Game. The bear season was initially scheduled to last two months.