AR-News: (US) Federal judge blocks bear hunt in Delaware Water Gap

Michael Markarian mmarkarian at
Fri Dec 5 19:20:50 EST 2003

Federal judge blocks bear hunt in Delaware Water Gap

The Associated Press
12/5/2003, 6:53 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge Friday temporarily blocked hunting 
black bears in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, putting 
a crimp in New Jersey's first bear hunt in three decades.

The six-day hunt can begin Monday as planned, but now only on state, 
local and private land. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he 
would issue a ruling Tuesday morning on whether the restraining order 
covering the national park land continues for the duration of the hunt.

The federal land subject to the temporary order constitutes as much as 
20 percent to 25 percent of the area that has been designated for the 
hunt, according to a lawyer representing New Jersey's Fish and Game 
Council, which authorized the hunt in July to help reduce the state's 
growing bear population.

A coalition of animal rights activists brought the case to federal 
court. They said the National Park Service should have conducted an 
environmental assessment and issued rules and regulations before 
allowing bear hunting in the national recreation area.

The federal government argued that such action was unnecessary and that 
New Jersey had proper authority to schedule a hunt that included the 
recreation area.

Walton sided, at least for a few days, with the hunt opponents.

Noting that both sides submitted written filings only recently, the 
judge said he needed until Tuesday to make a fully informed decision.

"I understand the implications of that," Walton said, referring to the 
impact on the opening days of the hunt. "I don't see any other way to do 

Jonathan Lovvorn, an attorney for the lead plaintiff, The Fund for 
Animals, said the federal government imposed restrictions — regulating 
hunting times and methods — that constituted active involvement in the hunt.

That should have triggered a formal rule-making process that would have 
included a public comment period, he argued.

Lauren Fischer, a Justice Department attorney, said federal officials 
merely reviewed the state's plan for a hunt and decided they did not 
need to act.

The plaintiffs, she said, "are here challenging a state-authorized and 
state-operated bear hunt."

The Delaware Water Gap encompasses about 69,000 acres in New Jersey and 
Pennsylvania along the Delaware River. Animal-rights activists said the 
land is home to rare and endangered birds, mammals and plants, including 
wintering bald eagles who could be disturbed by bear hunters.

Ellen Barney Balint, who represented New Jersey in the court hearing, 
said the Delaware Water Gap land is particularly important to the 
success of the bear hunt because of the concentration of animals there.

She told the judge that bears are moving into populated areas, 
endangering human residents in the nation's most densely populated state.

"We're not out in Montana or something," she said.

Balint warned that the timing of next week's hunt is crucial. The hunt 
was planned for a week when pregnant females should already be 
hibernating, but just before male bears go into their dens as well, she 

Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United 
States, another plaintiff in the case, praised the judge's interim 
ruling and said New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey should cancel plans 
for the hunt.

A spokeswoman for McGreevey, Ellen Mellody, said the governor would have 
preferred to avoid the controversy spurred by the planned hunt. "But 
unfortunately, in this case, the seriousness of the safety concerns and 
our citizens' well-being trumps the governor's personal preference," 
Mellody said.

Three other legal actions — two opposing the hunt and one seeking to 
allow youths ages 10 to 15 to participate in it — were denied Friday.

The New Jersey Supreme court refused late Friday to hear an appeal 
seeking to delay the hunt.

The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and eight hunting families sued the state 
Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday, challenging a 
decision by Commissioner Bradley Campbell to revoke bear hunting permits 
of more than 200 youths who had completed seminars on bear hunting.

Campbell and Martin McHugh, director of the DEP's Division of Fish and 
Wildlife, said the decision was based on concerns about young hunters' 
maturity, given the possibility of confrontations with anti-hunt protesters.

"We're glad the hunt will still take place on state land, but we are 
bitterly disappointed that youth hunters will be excluded for absolutely 
no valid reason," said alliance vice president Rob Sexton.

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