Grizzly deaths spur bear baiting challenge against USFS in Idaho, Wyoming

A lawsuit has just been filed challenging a U.S Forest Service policy that grants states authority to allow black bear baiting in national forests, despite knowing that such practices have resulted in the deaths of threatened grizzly bears.

As a hunter myself, I find the practice of ‘baiting’ bears gross, unethical and totally inappropriate on any publics lands, but especially within habitat for threatened grizzly bears. Here’s the press release from the plaintiffs.

Grizzly deaths spur bear baiting challenge in Idaho, Wyoming

Today, wildlife advocates challenged in federal court a U.S. Forest Service policy granting states authority to allow black bear baiting in national forests, despite knowing that such practices have resulted in the deaths of threatened grizzly bears. Hunters have killed threatened grizzlies attracted to bait stations, typically stocked with human food intended to lure black bears. Currently, only Idaho and Wyoming allow bear baiting in national forests. The challenge comes as Congress considers a bill to enact expanded protections for threatened grizzlies.

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

Until 1992, the Forest Service required hunters and guides to obtain a special use permit to use bait to hunt black bears in national forests. Documents defining the terms of the policy change prohibits any grizzly killing (“take”) due to bear baiting. Should any grizzly bear deaths occur, “the [Forest Service] must reinitiate consultation with the [Fish and Wildlife] Service and provide the circumstances surrounding the take.” The decision’s biological opinion also stated there was only a “remote possibility that a grizzly bear may be taken as a result of black bear baiting.”

After the Forest Service allowed states alone to decide whether bait could be used, the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem increased. Since 1995, at least eight grizzly bears have been shot and killed at black bear bait stations in national forests in Idaho and Wyoming, and more have been killed at bait stations on other public and private lands.

Vague agency record keeping prohibits certainty about the extent of grizzly mortalities at black bear bait stations. However, in 2007, a grizzly was killed in the Bitterroot ecosystem on public land managed by the Forest Service, the first grizzly known to inhabit the area in over half a century.

“Grizzlies are making their way to the vast, wild country of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and they’ll get there if we let them,” said Dana Johnson of Wilderness Watch. “Unfortunately, the many bait stations scattered along that path are death-magnets for dispersing bears. It’s past time for the Forest Service to do something about it.”

Also since giving states the power to allow bear baiting in national forests, scientists have established a significant body of research showing baiting causes harmful and irreversible grizzly bear conditioning to human food and disrupts grizzlies’ behavioral dynamics.

“The confirmed grizzly killings at bait stations are more than enough to trigger the Forest Service to reevaluate its policy delegating these decisions to states,” said Pete Frost, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Safe passage for grizzlies to the Selway Bitterroot ecosystem is critical to their recovery, and the Forest Service is required to reassess whether to allow states to control bear baiting in our national forests.”

Given bear baiting’s harmful effects on threatened grizzly bears, the groups involved in the case want the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to re-evaluate whether bear baiting decisions should be up to states, and whether baiting is too harmful to threatened grizzly bears.

9 thoughts on “Grizzly deaths spur bear baiting challenge against USFS in Idaho, Wyoming”

  1. I’ve never heard of a hunter mention the group “wild earth guardians” without accompanying such mention with an appropriate pejorative and maybe spitting tobacco into the dirt and rubbing it in with the toe of one’s boot.

    • I don’t chew, or spit tobacco, ‘som sai’ but as an avid – and successful – hunter myself I fully support WildEarth Guardians. In fact, everyone in my hunting camp supports groups like WildEarth Guardians.

      I also reckon that your foul-mouthed, tobacco spitting ‘hunter’ couldn’t even come close to keeping up with me and my crew in the backcountry, so whatever partner.

    • Howdy Steve. I have kept it civil and focused on forest planning and management. But the anonymous comment by “som sai” deserved a response. Cheers.

  2. An example of where the Forest Service recognized that it may regulate hunting (and apparently chose to for awhile), but then made a decision to let the states do it (based on information that is now out of date).

  3. UPDATE: Quite literally a radio-collared grizzly bear in the roadless Kelly Creek drainage in Idaho was just photographed by a hunting guide directly over a bear baiting station.

    Hunting guide Garrett Welling spotted the 3-year-old male bear in the lower Kelly Creek area of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in early June while stocking a black bear baiting site with food.

    “I walked up on it at one of our baiting sites. It just kinda stood their off to the side while I was baiting and watched me,” he said from his remote camp during a brief interview over Facebook Messenger. “It’s very common to walk up on bear making my runs. So I didn’t think much about it. Just thought, that’s a strange looking black bear. Then upon reviewing the (trail camera) pictures, I noticed the (radio) collar and the obvious features of a grizzly.”

  4. Update:

    According to the Lewiston Morning Tribune:

    North central Idaho appears to have had a second grizzly bear roaming its wilds last year.

    A hunter captured images of a bear at a baiting station last fall on Newsome Creek in the greater Elk City area that experts say likely is a grizzly. The bear has a visible hump and rounded ears. It also appears to have long front claws in one of the photos. All three characteristics are common in grizzly bears, experts say. However wildlife managers have been unable to say for certain the bear is a grizzly.

    The hunter has no doubt.

    “It’s definitely a grizzly,” said Jim Alfrey, of Lapwai, who captured the images on his trail camera. “I know for sure it’s a grizzly bear. I’ve shot a lot of black bears. If you look at it compared to the 55-gallon drum, you could put almost three 55-gallon drums inside of it.”….

    Some environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for allowing bear baiting on federal forests in Idaho and Montana. The groups, which include Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Wilderness Watch, say the practice puts grizzlies at risk of being shot and should be banned.

    The Forest Service once regulated bear baiting on land it manages, but stopped in 1992 and instead left it up to state wildlife agencies to decide when and where the practice should be allowed. The groups argue that several grizzly bears have been killed at baiting sites when hunters have mistaken them for black bears.


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