Feds sued to stop use of bear bait by hunters in Idaho, Wyoming

(CN) – Conservationists sued the federal government Wednesday over its practice of allowing black bear hunters to use bait in Wyoming and Idaho.

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch filed the suit in Idaho federal court. The suit names the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants.

The groups say the government has violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing incidental kills of grizzlies by black bear hunters using bait. The suit seeks to force the Forest Service to stop allowing black bear baiting in areas of national forests in Wyoming and Idaho where grizzly bears may be.

Federal law currently allows individual states to determine whether to allow black bear hunters to use bait, and Idaho and Wyoming are the only two states in the lower 48 that allow bear baiting by black bear hunters.

The conservationists say black bear hunters in those two states have killed eight grizzly bears. Grizzlies have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are part of six ecosystems – the Bitterroot, the Cabinet-Yaak, the Northern Cascades, the Northern Continental Divide, the Selkirk and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. There are an estimated 50 grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and about 80 grizzlies in the Selkirk ecosystem. There are an estimated 718 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, according to the National Park Service.

In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protections for grizzly bears around Yellowstone National Park, saying the animal had rebounded to sustainable populations. Wyoming and Idaho then pursued limited hunting of grizzlies around Yellowstone, but this past September a federal judge in Missoula, Montana, restored Endangered Species Act protections and canceled the hunts.

Until 1992, the Forest Service had required hunters to obtain special-use permits to use bait to hunt black bears in national forests.

“Bear baiting not only violates fair-chase hunting ethics, it has caused deaths of … grizzlies,” Lindsay Larris of WildEarth Guardians said. “Federal agencies are bound by the law to recover threatened grizzlies, and knowingly allowing bear baiting flagrantly violates that duty.”

Wilderness Watch attorney Dana Johnson filed the lawsuit on behalf of the groups.