Two conservation organizations notified the federal government on Wednesday that they plan to legally challenge its authorization of bear baiting on national forests in Idaho and Wyoming for violations of the Endangered Species Act, citing harms to protected grizzly bears and new science on impacts to grizzlies from baiting. The notice starts a 60-day clock, after which they can file a complaint.

According to Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, the U.S. Forest Service used to manage and restrict bear baiting on national forests but in 1995 the agency adopted a “hands-off” policy that largely relegates management of the practice to individual states. Most Western states—including Montana, Washington and Oregon—have banned the practice, but Idaho and Wyoming still allow it, even in occupied grizzly bear habitat. Further, the Forest Service exempts bear baiting in Idaho and Wyoming from its food storage orders on national forests, counter to the purpose of the orders to protect bears and the public.

When the Forest Service adopted its baiting policy in 1995, the agency assumed the impacts to black bears and other wildlife, including threatened grizzly bears, would be negligible, the organizations stated.

“We now know this is not the case,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, which is representing the groups. “Over the past 23 years, we’ve seen a large number of grizzly bears killed at black bear baiting stations in Idaho and Wyoming, including the first grizzly to make it to Idaho’s Bitterroot region since 1949. New science also reveals the consequences of using attractants to kill black bears are more serious than originally thought.”

The organizations are asking the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit their early findings and complete an updated analysis on the impacts of allowing black bear baiting on national forests in Idaho and Wyoming and, in particular, allowing baiting in areas occupied by threatened grizzly bears. 

“Recovering grizzly bears to healthy population numbers, and restoring the great bear to key linkage areas like the mountain backcountry along the Montana-Idaho border, are key priorities for grizzly recovery,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project. “Setting out bait stations in grizzly country is a recipe for creating human-bear conflicts, and the Forest Service needs to put a halt to this irresponsible activity.”

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