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Judge Blocks America's First Grizzly Bear Hunt In Decades

Tim Brent - Instagram / Denali National Park and Preserve - Wikimedia

Call it a last minute rescue from a grizzly fate.

A judge has reinstated federal protections for grizzly bears in two states - just in time to save them from a planned bear hunt.

The hunt, originally set to begin on September 1st, would have been the first grizzly hunt outside Alaska in nearly three decades.

But the fight to protect the bears is not over.

A Deadly Decision

Last year, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed protections under the Endangered Species Act for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park.

The decision passed protection of the bears onto the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Montana was the only state not to pass quota-based grizzly bear hunts following the ruling.

Bears in the Yellowstone region have been on the endangered species list since 1975, when their numbers ranged somewhere between just 136 and 312.

Grizzly hunts have been restricted throughout the lower 48 states since 1991.

So hunters in Wyoming and Idaho were gearing up for long-awaited bear hunts this week as District Judge Dana Christensen reinstated protection for the bears.

It was the third time Christensen had issued a block since hunting season began.

In his decision, the judge argued this case was "not about the ethics of hunting."

Instead, he claims federal officials have not measured the risk hunting could pose to the grizzly's survival as a species.

"This is a victory for the bears and for people from all walks of life."

The decision to protect the bears follows a legal challenge by Native American tribes and wildlife activists united in a class action lawsuit.

Judge Christensen pointed out that an estimated 50,000 bears or more once lived across America, while today the number of bears in the continental U.S. has shrunk to about 1,500.

Christensen said the threat to grizzlies posed by the FWS decision was "arbitrary and capricious."

But hunters tell a different story, listing confrontations between bears and tourists, farmers, and livestock as proof that hunting could help control the bear population.

A recent attack in Wyoming that killed a hunting guide was offered as evidence of the risk posed by bears.

Cody Wisniewski, a representative for the Wyoming Farm Bureau, said grizzlies are "endangering the lives and livelihoods of westerners who settled the region long ago."�

Meanwhile Tim Preso, a lawyer for the environmental group EarthJustice, celebrated the decision.

"This is a victory for the bears and for people from all walks of life who come to this region to see the grizzly in its natural place in the world,"� he said.

So far, Wyoming has issued 22 hunting permits for grizzly bears, while Idaho has issued one.

The hunt will remain on hold as Christensen continues to consider the lawsuits.

Meanwhile, FWS is watching closely as they consider lifting more federal protections on another 1,000 bears in Montana's Glacier National Park.

[H/T: NBC News, Global News, The Independent, USA Today, BBC]

What do you think of the hunting ban? Should it stay in place?

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