A federal court in Boise today denied the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to stop black bear baiting in national forests in Idaho and Wyoming – a practice known to result in the deaths of endangered grizzly bears.
U.S. magistrate judge Candy Dale ordered the suit may proceed despite the Forest Service’s claim that it need not re-evaluate how baiting can affect grizzlies. The Forest Service last looked at the issue 25 years ago, and concluded no grizzlies would be affected – a conclusion demonstrated to be false.
In June 2019, wildlife groups filed suit to challenge the Forest Service’s decision that states could allow hunters to use bait to hunt black bears in grizzly habitat in national forests. Only Idaho and Wyoming do so.
The groups assert baiting has led to at least 10 recent grizzly deaths in Idaho and Wyoming, often due to mistaken identity.
“States should not allow baiting that can attract grizzlies and lead to their deaths,” said Pete Frost, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center. “Grizzlies have been shot near bait, and more may die, unless the Forest Service properly acts.”
The court ruled the Forest Service must “reinitiate consultation” with the Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain its opinion whether the continued use of bait may jeopardize the continued existence of grizzlies. The court also ruled the Forest Service did not need to re-evaluate the environmental effects of its overall national policy.
In 2007, a hunter mistakenly killed a grizzly at a black bear bait station in the Kelly Creek area in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. The grizzly was the first seen in the region in 60 years.
In 2016, a teenager was charged with unlawfully killing a grizzly near an illegal bait station on private land near Wallace, Idaho.
From 2017 to 2019, grizzly population monitoring shows the bears have expanded by about 1,500 square miles.
In 2019, a federal judge in Montana rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to take grizzlies off the Endangered Species list, in part because grizzlies in separate ecosystems need to wander to achieve genetic connectivity.
In June, 2019, a grizzly bear wearing a tracking collar was discovered near a bait station in the Kelly Creek drainage in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game urged black bear hunters to use caution when selecting targets in the area.
In fall 2019, a hunter photographed likely a grizzly bear at a bear baiting station on a tributary to the South Fork Clearwater River in Idaho.
In April 2020, an Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer confirmed a grizzly’s presence in the Fish Creek Meadows winter recreation area about 7 miles south of Grangeville, farther south than most anticipated. The bear has traveled several hundred miles through Montana and Idaho.
Now that the lawsuit will proceed, the groups will seek a court order requiring the Forest Service to obtain a new biological opinion about how baiting affects grizzlies, and terms and conditions to ensure they are not shot.