By Mark Davis
Via Wyoming News Exchange
POWELL — Three conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit in federal court in an effort to stop baiting for black bears during Wyoming and Idaho hunting seasons.
WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch named the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service as defendants, claiming the practice violates the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by exposing protected grizzly bears to possible deadly situations during black bear seasons.
“Everyone knows that a fed bear is a dead bear. This is why the public is asked to take steps to avoid leaving attractants and food at campsites in grizzly bear country,” Sarah McMillan, WildEarth Guardians’ conservation director, said in a press release. “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.”
The plaintiffs, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, say there have been eight cases in Wyoming and Idaho where hunters have mistaken a grizzly bear for a black bear — though it was unclear how many of those cases related to baiting.
Wyoming and Idaho are among 12 states in the nation that allow bear baiting and are the only two where both black and grizzly bears reside.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department views bear baiting as an important tool.
“Black bear baiting is important for the Game and Fish in providing hunting opportunities and to meet black bear management objectives,” said department spokesperson Sara DiRienzo.
The department plans to take some time to study the case before making any further comments, DiRienzo said.
Joe Kondelis of Cody, president of the Western Bear Federation, says the suit isn’t about grizzly bears, but rather uses the “hot topic” species for a chance to have courts manage wildlife in the two states. “They know federal court is the best way to get it done. I don’t think courts should be deciding our wildlife management issues,” he said.
“Make no mistake about it, this is not an act to do anything to ensure a future for grizzly bears in the West. They have been absent on that front for years; this is an outright attack on bear baiting in Idaho and Wyoming,” Kondelis said. “What is worse is the approach by these two groups to effect this change. Rather than go through proper protocol and handle at the state level with wildlife managers they are going right to district court.”
Kondelis said the conservation organizations only stay relevant by filing lawsuits.
“That’s how they raise money,” he said. “If we don’t win and they take this away, it opens the gates to close other hunting opportunities across the country.”
Black bear populations have been gradually increasing in the state since changing management of the species more than a decade ago. Prior to 1994, there were no limits on black bears other than a one bear per person regulation. Currently, the department sets female harvest quotas for three-year periods. Harvest data are evaluated annually and at the end of the three-year period, quotas may be changed to meet the objectives.
A black bear management plan was written in 1994 and revised in 2007. The department moved from a hunt area level approach to broader bear management units. According to the Game and Fish, about 200 black bears are harvested annually in Wyoming. Sixty percent are harvested in the spring season and of those, 80 percent are killed over bait. Only 24 percent of bears harvested during fall seasons are taken over bait. Hunter success is also higher in spring.
Montana does not allow baiting during black bear seasons.