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(WGHP) — Three North Carolina bear sanctuaries are expected to soon see hunters for the first time in decades, The Guardian reports.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission voted in February to allow permit bear hunting in the area of three current bear sanctuaries: Panthertown-Bonas Defeat, Standing Indian and Pisgah Bear. Bear hunting has been illegal in these areas since 1971. The sanctuaries will open to hunters later in 2022.

The U.S. Forest Service requested the change “due to increased human-bear interactions,” the commission said during a January hearing according to The Guardian. The bear population has climbed from about 1,000 in the 1990s to close to 15,000 today, The Hill reports.

But this change is not a blank check to kill bears in these sanctuaries. There are some limitations. For example, hunters can only kill one bear during the season, and they cannot kill bears while they are eating, The Hill reports. Nevertheless, the wildlife commission’s ruling did not come without protest.

Friends of Panthertown, a nonprofit that works with the U.S. Forest Service to protect the 6,311-acre Panthertown Valley, said on its website, “Friends of Panthertown does not support bear hunting in Panthertown or the NCWRC rule changes to allow bear hunting by permit here. We do not believe allowing bear hunts in Panthertown will solve human-bear interaction concerns, or is an appropriate solution. We have requested a delay pending legislative review.”

The nonprofit reports that 2,365 people sent comments to the wildlife commission in opposition to the change compared to 370 who voiced support.

Opponents, like Friends of Panthertown, say that the problem is with individual bears, not the species as a whole, and opening these sanctuaries to hunting will mean the indiscriminate killing of bears, including cubs.

A petition is calling for a halt to the rule change. Launched by advocacy organization OneProtest three months ago, the petition has since garnered more than 8,700 signatures as of Friday.