December 9, 2019

Idaho and Wyoming: Federal Authorities Oppose Lawsuit Filed by Environmental Groups to Ban Bear-Baiting

Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Inter-Mountain Western States Coordinator

In a recent lawsuit filed by the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Wilderness Watch against the US Forest Service (USFS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), environmental groups aim to ban bear-baiting in both Idaho and Wyoming, claiming that these federal agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Specifically, these environmental groups are contending that the federal agencies are in violation of the ESA because a small number of threatened grizzly bears have been mistakenly harvested by black bear hunters using bait in national forests over the past 24 years. Additionally, these environmental groups are claiming that the USFS is in violation of NEPA because they failed to update an analysis from the 1990’s by preparing a supplemental environmental review assessing the use of bait to hunt black bears.

In response, the US Department of Justice, which is representing the USFS and USFWS, filed court documents stating the lawsuit failed to make a claim involving the USFWS, and that under federal environmental law there is not significant reason for the USFS to do a supplemental environmental review, therefore the lawsuit should be dismissed. Furthermore, the USFS and USFWS have openly stated in recently filed court documents that the decision to allow the use of bait to attract bears should continue to be made by the states charged with managing the bear populations. 

Both Idaho and Wyoming currently have restrictions on where bait can be used to hunt black bear, in order to reduce the likelihood of grizzly bear encounters. Idaho prohibits the use of bait in areas that are known to be inhabited by grizzly bears, while Wyoming prohibits the use of bait for black bear hunting in established grizzly bear recovery areas.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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