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Federal Judge Lifts Prohibition on Bear Hunting at the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area

United States District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton today lifted the federal court order prohibiting hunting for bears at the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area. The Order issued Friday December 5, 2003, was in response to a federal suit filed by Fund for Animals claiming that the Director of the Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior had violated the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA. Fund for Animals also alleged that the hunt would cause irreparable harm to their members and was against the public interest. The New Jersey Fish and Game Council sought and was granted intervenor status to defend the Bear hunting season which was part of the 2003 Game Code adopted by the Council.
Ruling against the Fund for Animals in all counts, Judge Walton found that the Fund had failed to establish any violations of the statutes by the Park Service or the Secretary.

The Court also failed to find that the plaintiffs would suffer any irreparable harm. Rather Judge Walton stated that “it is also significant that the limited six-day hunt is not designed to eradicate or even significantly reduce the black bear population. As defendants note, "[c]ontrary to [p]laintiffs' alarmist predictions, the black bear population at the [Recreation Area] is not going to be decimated, or even significantly impacted, by this bear hunt." . . . Thus, "plaintiffs' aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural interests in observing, photographing, studying, and appreciating bears in the Recreation Area . . . [will not be irreparably injured]"
The court was also concerned as to the potential harm to others if the hunt was not allowed to proceed. The decision noted that in 2002, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") received over fourteen hundred complaints on bears, compared to 285 complaints received in 1995. And that in June 20, 2003, a two-year old boy was swatted on the head by a black bear as he sat on the front porch of his home. The opinion recognized that hunters were being already being deprived of their opportunity to hunt these bears because hibernation has already begun.

Ultimately the court concluded that given the State of New Jersey's research on this issue “the public interest favors permitting the State of New Jersey to conduct its limited hunt in order to manage its wildlife resources and hopefully promote a healthy and safe habitat for the residents who live in the vicinity of the Recreation Area as well as for the black bears.”

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