Advocates ask judge to extend delay on Rockies grizzly hunts

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FILE - In this July 6, 2011 file photo, a grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park. Opponents of grizzly bear hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho are asking a judge to further delay hunting while he considers a request to restore federal protections for the animals. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) Opponents of grizzly bear hunts in Wyoming and Idaho asked a judge Wednesday for another two-week delay while he considers if federal protections for the animals should be restored.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana, last month put on hold for two weeks the first grizzly bear hunts to be scheduled in the Lower 48 states in decades.

That order expires Thursday, and hunt opponents say state officials could immediately allow bears to be killed.

The U.S. Interior Department last year lifted protections on about 700 grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park, after government biologists determined the animals have recovered and should be managed by state wildlife agencies.

Wildlife advocates and Native American tribes have sued to restore their threatened species status.

Fewer than two dozen bears would be allowed to be killed in the hunts.

Idaho's hunting quota is one bear.

Wyoming's hunt has two parts: Outlying areas with a quota of 12 bears, where hunting was originally scheduled to start Sept. 1, and prime grizzly habitat near Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where up to 10 bears could be killed beginning Saturday.

Hunt opponents said in a Wednesday court filing that the looming Saturday deadline raises the stakes in the court battle over whether the animals should be protected.

Attorneys for the federal government and the states of Idaho and Wyoming opposed the requested delay.

The Yellowstone grizzly population has increased from an estimated 136 bears when they were granted protections in 1975. Bears now come into frequent conflicts with humans, through attacks on domestic livestock and people who encounter bears unexpectedly in the forest.

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