By Stan Bush
MISSOULA, Mont. (CBS4) – Environmental groups just scored a major victory in the fight to protect grizzly bears.
On Thursday afternoon U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen issued a temporary restraining order on grizzly hunts in Idaho and Wyoming. The hunt in Wyoming for 22 bears was scheduled to start on Saturday.
Last year, the U.S. 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 — with just over a 100 known to game managers. The population has hovered around 700 bears for the last decade and Wyoming game officials say they are living in unsuitable habitat.
“The population of bears has leveled off. It’s not exploding,” says wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen.
Nearly 60 bears are already killed in Wyoming every year in conflicts with ranchers and livestock and when they are hit crossing roads. Mangelsen says the bears could also be struggling from the effects of the changing climate in the high altitude wilderness.
“Wouldn’t it make sense to err on the side of caution and not hold a hunt?” Mangelsen adds.
The decision is bound to be a disappointment for outfitters and hunters would have invested in a hunt this fall.
“I don’t think a grizzly or an elk is more important, we should have balance,” argues Taylor Engum, the owner of East Fork Outfitters, one of four guide companies licensed to hold the hunt.
“The plan (to hunt) is solid, the population is solid, and I think it’s going to continue to be,” says Engum.
Previous Coverage: Judge To Hear Arguments On Controversial Grizzly Hunt In Wyoming
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 U.S. Fish & Game. The bear season was initially scheduled to last two months.