AR-News: (US) Federal judge blocks bear hunt in Delaware Water Gap
mmarkarian at fund.org
Fri Dec 5 19:20:50 EST 2003
Federal judge blocks bear hunt in Delaware Water Gap
By LAURENCE ARNOLD
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
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,"
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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