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In Win for Wildlife, Yellowstone Area Grizzlies Get 'Stay of Execution'

Federal judge grants temporary restraining order blocking planned trophy hunts in Wyoming and Idaho

A grizzly bear

"The bears should not be killed in a hunting season made possible by an illegal government decision," said Tim Preso, an attorney at Earthjustice. (Photo: Roy Luck/flickr/cc)

Wildlife advocates are breathing a sigh of relief after a federal judge on Thursday halted a planned trophy hunt of grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho.

"We're profoundly relieved the grizzly bears got a stay of execution," said Bethany Cotton with WildEarth Guardians.

Granting the 14-day restraining order, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote (pdf) that "the threat of death to individual grizzly bears posed by the scheduled hunt is sufficient" to prove irreperable harm.

The hunts in both states—made possible by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision last year to strip the Yellowstone region's grizzly population of Endangered Species Act protections—would have been the first in over four decades. They would have begun Sept. 1 and allowed up to 23 bears to be killed outside of the national park.

"As we explained to the judge .... the removal of protections for Yellowstone's iconic grizzlies was illegal. The bears should not be killed in a hunting season made possible by an illegal government decision," said Tim Preso, an attorney at Earthjustice, which had filed the restraining order on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Park Conservation Association.

The groups are still awaiting a final decision on their challenge to the population's removal from the federal endangered and threatened species list. Still, according to Montana Public Radio,

[Judge Christensen] really seemed to crack down on the Fish and Wildlife Service for delisting just this one population of grizzlies. He wanted to know why they’d decided to delist just one population, what sort of analysis went into that decision, and how it could affect other populations of bears—especially grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, here in Montana.

"We applaud Judge Christensen's decision to hit the pause button," said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. "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."

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