Today, wildlife advocates notified the federal government they plan to legally challenge its authorization of bear baiting on National Forest System lands in Idaho and Wyoming for violations of the Endangered Species Act, citing harms to protected grizzly bears and new science on impacts to grizzlies from baiting. The notice starts a 60-day clock, after which they will file the complaint.
The U.S. Forest Service used to manage and restrict bear baiting on National Forest lands but in 1995 the agency adopted a “hands-off” policy that largely relegates management of the practice to individual states. Most western states – including Montana, Washington, and Oregon – have banned the practice, but Idaho and Wyoming still allow it on our National Forest System lands in those states, even in occupied grizzly bear habitat. Further, the Forest Service exempts bear baiting in Idaho and Wyoming from its food storage orders on National Forest lands, counter to the purpose of the orders to protect bears and the public.
“Everyone knows that a fed bear is a dead bear,” said Sarah McMillan, WildEarth Guardians’ conservation director. “This is why the public is asked to take steps to avoid leaving attractants and food at campsites in grizzly bear country. But in Idaho and Wyoming, individuals seeking to kill black bears can dump hundreds of pounds of donuts and other foods in these same forests to attract and kill bears. It makes no sense.”
When the Forest Service adopted its baiting policy in 1995, the agency assumed the impacts to black bears and other wildlife, including threatened grizzly bears, would be negligible. “We now know this is not the case,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups. “Over the past 23 years we’ve seen a large number of grizzly bears killed at black bear baiting stations in Idaho and Wyoming, including the first grizzly to make it to Idaho’s Bitterroot region since 1949. New science also reveals the consequences of using attractants to kill black bears are more serious than originally thought,” added Bishop.
The advocates are asking the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its early findings and complete a new, updated analysis on the impacts of allowing black bear baiting on National Forest lands in Idaho and Wyoming and, in particular, allowing baiting in areas occupied by threatened grizzly bears.
“Recovering grizzly bears to healthy population numbers, and restoring the great bear to key linkage areas like the mountain backcountry along the Montana-Idaho border, are key priorities for grizzly recovery,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. “Setting out bait stations in grizzly country is a recipe for creating human-bear conflicts, and the Forest Service needs to put a halt to this irresponsible activity.”