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Court ruling to suspend all bear hunting overturned

Bear watching.
Bear watching. Source: Ago Gaškov

On September 1, the first-tier Tallinn District Court upheld the Environmental Board's appeal against the animal rights advocacy group NGO Eesti Suurkiskjad, thereby annulling an earlier administrative court order that suspended all bear culling in Estonia.

The Tallinn District Court ruled against granting preliminary injunction to suspend all bear culling requested by the NGO Eesti Suurkiskjad; the court's decision cannot be appealed, the Estonian Hunters Society (Jahimeeste Selts) reported.

In response to an appeal by the NGO, the Tallinn administrative court suspended all bear culling on August 10. This restriction was a provisional legal protection pending the court's final ruling.

According to the NGO, the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) has violated the law for years. In support of their position, they argued that bears can only be hunted on rare occasions and under unique conditions, once all other alternatives had been exhausted.

The Environmental Board then disputed a ruling by the first-tier Tallinn administrative court that all bear culling must be suspended in all hunting regions.

A new district court ruling (link in Estonian) permits the continuation of bear culling.

The district court rejected the NGO's claim that the assessment of the bear population and the size of the culling volume were not based on scientific methods. According to the court, when determining the extent of the bear hunt, consideration was given to the species' present conservation status.

The Environmental Board's regulation argued that bears are permitted to be taken only in regions where they are more prevalent and where bears have caused or are likely to cause damage (in particular, looting of bee hives).

The Board also noted an increase in the number of damage cases in recent years, so the court concluded that there is a sufficient correlation between the permitted hunting volume and damage that has already occurred and damage that is likely to occur in the future.

In addition to preventing damage, the court also recognized the importance of maintaining the bear's fear of humans in areas where bears are more prevalent.

Hunting helps maintain the population's fear of humans by presumably targeting the bolder, more easily captured individuals (known or likely to cause harm).

"Although some of the damage may be due to the placement of bee hives in or near the forest and the failure to implement effective protective measures, the district court is not persuaded, based on the evidence presented to date, that non-lethal alternatives are sufficient to prevent damage and maintain the bear's fear of humans," the court ruled.

For these reasons, the chances of the NGO's appeal succeeding on the district court's ruling are low, and thus there is no compelling need for interim relief that would outweigh the likely harm to the public interest (the financial cost to the state of compensating for the animal's damage) and to third parties (beekeepers and farmers who suffer damage caused by the bear) caused by failing to hunt the bears to the prescribed extent.

The district court also noted that the Environmental Board's contested order is issued with the possibility to amend it that allows for a reduction of culling volumes in the middle of the hunting season, if deemed necessary.

Bears, excluding mothers with cubs, may be hunted in Estonia from August 1 to October 31, according to the country's hunting regulations. At the start of this year's season, the Environmental Board issued 90 bear hunting permits.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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