Environmental groups ask Wyoming, Idaho forests to review bear baiting

By Mike Koshmrl

Jackson Hole Daily

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Environmental groups say they will sue national forests, including the Bridger-Teton, for not regulating baiting sites that are inadvertently claiming the lives of federally protected grizzly bears.

Baiting is a common tactic in black bear hunting, and it’s used by the majority of hunters, especially in the springtime, who pursue the species in Idaho and Wyoming — the states that house the national forests targeted in the expected litigation.

“For years, the Forest Service has been allowing bear baiting on national forests, even though this causes major problems as far as bear-human conflicts,” Wyoming Watersheds Executive Director Erik Molvar said in an interview. “By permitting bear baiting in grizzly country, both the Forest Service and state agencies in Wyoming and Idaho are sabotaging recovery efforts of grizzly bears.”

Because bear baiting is illegal in Montana, national forests in the Treasure State were not included in the groups’ 60-day notice of intent to sue. The practice is also prohibited in Oregon and Washington.

The notice, which precedes a legal complaint, was prepared by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watersheds Project. The groups contend that authorizing black bear baiting in grizzly bear habitat violates the Endangered Species Act. They also argue that the Forest Service improperly OK’d food-storage orders that expressly exempt bear baiting on the Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee and Idaho Panhandle national forests.

Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said she couldn’t comment on the situation, because the notice is a precursor to litigation.

According to the notice, national forests in Wyoming and Idaho have not regulated bear baiting since 1995, when the U.S. Forest Service did away with a national policy on the practice.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Idaho Department of Fish and Game are the regulatory authorities that police baiting.

The 18-page notice details at least nine instances of grizzlies allegedly dying because of bear-baiting sites in Wyoming and Idaho, though it dubs the list “notably under-inclusive.” No Bridger-Teton grizzly mortalities are included on the list, though there are several bait-related grizzly deaths called out on the east side of the Continental Divide near Dubois and in the Owl Creek Mountains.

The notice asks the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prepare an analysis on the impacts of allowing black bear baiting in Idaho and Wyoming national forests, particularly those occupied by threatened grizzly bears.

WildEarth Guardians Conservation Director Sarah McMillan in a statement recited the “fed bear is a dead bear” mantra.

“This is why the public is asked to take steps to avoid leaving attractants and food at campsites in grizzly bear country,” McMillan said. “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.”

Grizzly bears, which Molvar said are the “driver” of the coming complaint, have been classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since late August, when a judge decided that federal wildlife managers’ 2017 delisting agreement violated the act. The Fish and Wildlife Service has until Dec. 24 to appeal, a route the state of Wyoming and several hunting and firearm advocacy groups are already taking.