On December 19th, 2018 The Western Environmental Law Center filed a sixty-day notice of intent to sue for violating the Endangered Species Act. Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center filed this sixty-day notice of intent to sue for violations of section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
Fueled by their disdain for the use of baiting as a method for hunting black bears in Idaho and Wyoming the Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth guardians have devised a strategy to utilize a high value target (grizzly bear recovery) in an effort to effect a ban on bear baiting on National Forest Lands in Wyoming and Idaho.
This intent to sue is actually not aimed at the endangered species act but instead a direct attack on bear baiting on National Forest Lands in Wyoming and Idaho. The claimants are stating that baiting on National Forest Land directly violates section 7 of the ESA. Section 7 of the ESA basically states that federal agencies, including the Forest Service are to ensure that any action it authorizes, funds, or carries out does not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species. What this boils down to is these groups are intending to sue the USFWS and USFS because in their minds baiting bears on the National Forest in Idaho and Wyoming is going to affect the long-term recovery of the grizzly bear. 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. 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!
The basis for the potential lawsuit claims that incidental mortality of grizzly bear caused by hunting black bear over baiting methods violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, by the litigant groups’ own estimation, only seven incidental grizzly bear mortalities can be related to black bear baiting in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in the last 20 years- a minimal impact compared to the estimated 40 “problem” grizzlies killed per year by other human activities. Consider as well that while black bear baiting has continued in Idaho and Wyoming, grizzly bear populations were and are sustainably recovering, a testament to the ESA’s capabilities.
In fact, black bear baiting is already not allowed in the grizzly Primary Recovery Area. We fail to see how wielding the ESA to stop black bear baiting in the Payette National Forest in Idaho, which boarders Oregon, hundreds of miles from the Primary Recovery Area and which contains no grizzly bears, is viable. Our groups support the recovery of grizzly bears, but utilizing the ESA to ban black bear baiting on all National Forest Lands in Idaho and Wyoming is not only egregious, but clearly an over-broad application of the ESA.
We have long supported the use of bear baits to effectively harvest black bears in Idaho and Wyoming. This practice has been in place for decades and is an effective tool in the toolbox for state wildlife agencies to manage the bear populations for health and balance, the result of which has been ever increasing populations.Arguments about the ethics of bear baiting are irrelevant to the intended lawsuit. Subjective claims made by the litigant groups regarding their preferential definitions of “fair” hunting obfuscate their stated grounds for the lawsuit, and provide no scientific defense for their claim that baiting black bears negatively impacts grizzly bear recovery. Certainly, social acceptance for harvest methods change over time, but mechanisms for wildlife management change reside in the hands of wildlife managers independent from political influence and the judiciary. If this intended lawsuit is about grizzly bear recovery, and not defining and implementing their ideas of “fair chase”, then discussion of harvest methods of any species other than grizzly bears is not only erroneous, but lends suspicion to other motives.
The recent intent to sue is wrought with misconceptions on bear baiting and full of subjective assumptions about the “proper” way to manage black bear and grizzly bear populations. While we could spend hours picking apart the misconceptions of this intent to sue, we feel it more important to highlight a few points regarding bear baiting and wildlife management:
This intended lawsuit attempts to utilize the ESA and grizzly bear listing to stop an unrelated black bear hunting method on every square inch of National Forest in all of Idaho and Wyoming, utilizing the judiciary to achieve their goals and successfully circumventing the jurisdiction of state wildlife agencies and their professional biologists and experts- the intended mechanism for wildlife policy adjustments. The lawsuit intends to block any opportunity for state wildlife professionals to do their jobs, while eliminating the public’s ability to provide input on the management of black bear, a wildlife resource held in public trust.
The citizens of Idaho and Wyoming, and their respective wildlife agencies have the authority to manage their non-listed wildlife species. This proposed lawsuit is over-broad, and aims to end an unrelated practice that has had no demonstrable impact on grizzly bear recovery.