By Stan Bush
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (CBS4)– A federal judge extended a temporary restraining order on Thursday, delaying planned grizzly bear hunts in Wyoming and Idaho.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen issued a new two-week suspension of the hunts that were scheduled to begin Sept. 1.
“We’re immensely relieved. The bears were just granted a stay of execution,” says Jeremy Nichols, a program director with WildEarth Guardians.
A half dozen environmental groups are suing the U.S. Department of Fish & Game over the decision to remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the endangered species list. Less than a year after that decision Wyoming and Idaho made plans for the first grizzly hunt in 40 years. Up to 23 bears could be killed if the hunt is allowed to go forward.
“The judge sees issues here. Federal judges don’t just hand out temporary restraining orders like candy. He’s seeing an issue of justice and the merits of our argument are real,” says Nichols.
Wyoming game officials argue that grizzlies have grown in unsuitable habitat that threatens livestock and people. Game managers think hunting is an appropriate was to manage to population.
The bear population has grown from 136 known bears in the 1970s to 757 in 2007. Right now around 700 grizzlies are believed to live in the area. Nearly 50 bears die every year due to conflicts with ranchers or as roadkill.
Environmentalists believe other factors, like climate change, could be hindering the grizzly population from growing. The judge is considering all of those opinions now.
“We’re hoping he rules to enforce what the scientists say. And the scientists say the bears need protections over a longer period of time,” adds Nichols. “If we don’t stand up and protect our wildlife, they will disappear.”