A U.S. judge on Thursday delayed for two more weeks the first grizzly bear hunts in the Lower 48 states in almost three decades, saying he needed more time to consider if federal protections for the animals should be restored.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen left the fate of the bruins in and around Yellowstone National Park in limbo, more than a year after federal officials declared the population had recovered from near extermination.
Up to 23 bears in the hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho. Christensen already delayed them once, in an order that came two days before grizzly season was set to open on Sept. 1.
In extending the delay, the judge said there remained “serious questions” regarding whether the government acted lawfully in lifting protections on an estimated 700 bears in the three-state Yellowstone region. He gave no further indication of his position in the case.
Wildlife advocates and Native American tribes requested the additional two-week delay after suing the government to restore the bears’ threatened species status. Attorneys for the federal government and the states of Idaho and Wyoming opposed the delay.
Christensen said it was justified because killing up to 23 bears would cause “irreparable injury” to those who want grizzlies protected.