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US Fish and Wildlife

As feds move to drop Wyoming bear baiting lawsuit, environmental groups say they’ll continue to pursue it

in News/wildlife
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By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Sy Gilliland isn’t even entertaining the idea of how his business would be affected if a lawsuit that aims to end bear baiting in Wyoming is successful.

“The state of Wyoming is going to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the outfitting industry,” said Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association and owner of SNS Outfitter & Guides. “(The lawsuit) is frivolous. It’s not based upon sound science.”

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June by environmental groups Wilderness Watch, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians. The groups claim that using food to bait black bears for hunting poses a threat to grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho, where grizzlies are protected under the Endangered Species Act

Last month, federal officials filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, citing previous agreements allowing the states to regulate bear baiting through their own wildlife management agencies, even if the practice occurs on national forest land. The plaintiffs say that’s not a solid argument.

“The states get to regulate hunting; however, if you want to create a food dump on federal land, you need a permit,” Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said Monday. “It’s not really a matter of legal debate.”

By early December, the lawsuit remained in U.S. District Court in Idaho.

At the crux of the lawsuit are questions over whether grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho still need to be protected. The bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem were deemed “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975, and federal agencies have been in and out of court over the last decade as grizzlies have been repeatedly removed and relisted as a threatened species. Most recently, protections were removed in 2017 and reinstated in 2018.

In the lawsuit, the conservation groups claim legal baiting of black bears also entices grizzlies into hunt areas. The groups cite eight instances in the last 24 years where black bear hunters have mistakenly killed grizzlies at bait sites.Rebekah Fitzgerald, communications director for Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the agency works hard to educate hunters on distinguishing the two species.

Additionally, Fitzgerald said, there are existing regulations in Wyoming regarding where bait can be used. Approved sites are outside of known grizzly bear range.

“If a grizzly is seen at a (bait) site, it will be closed for the season,” Fitzgerald said. “We continue to use black bear baiting because we believe it’s a tool to harvest black bears and do it selectively.”

Fitzgerald declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation.

According to Game and Fish Department research, the grizzly bear population continues to expand outside of the recovery zone in northwest Wyoming that was designated in a species recovery plan in 1993. 

In the lawsuit, baiting opponents claimed the Forest Service may not be able to accurately judge potential threats to grizzlies because it has not conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment of the species since the mid-1990s. The Forest Service maintains nothing has occurred to trigger the National Environmental Policy Act which would require an updated assessment.

“Grizzly bear populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are tenuous at best,” Molvar, the Western Watersheds leader, told Cowboy State Daily. “Certainly a better understanding of grizzly bear ecology and human/grizzly interaction is beneficial to everyone.”

Outfitter Gilliland can agree on that — sort of. He believes the population could be double the estimated 600 or so bears in Wyoming, second only to Montana’s estimated 800 bears.

“I would really love to see the truth come out about grizzly numbers,” Gilliland said. “The available grizzly habitat in Wyoming is full to the point of overflowing. We’re doing these bears a huge disservice by not managing them.”

Managing grizzlies — and all other wildlife — falls to the states. If the lawsuit against the federal agencies is dismissed, Molvar said he doesn’t feel a similar lawsuit against Wyoming and Idaho’s state agencies would be effective.

“We don’t think the states have the same requirement to protect the wildlife that the feds do,” he said.

And while Gilliland said he believes the suit is a veiled attempt to end all bear hunting in Wyoming, Molvar said Western Watersheds “has no stance, pro or con, on hunting.”

But he said he does feel it would behoove hunters to discontinue baiting on their own.

“I think it’s to the hunting community’s advantage to get rid of practices like bear baiting that are objectionable to the general public,” Molvar said.

Gilliland doesn’t plan to do that anytime soon. He echoed Wyoming Game and Fish’s stance on baiting.

“There’s a misunderstanding that you drop a bucket of jelly donuts (in the woods) and the bears start running in and you pick ‘em off,” Gilliland said. “Black bears are stealthy, and it would be very difficult to manage them by any means other than baiting.”

Wyoming’s Wallace wins unanimous approval for Interior post from powerful US Senate committee

in News/Recreation/Tourism
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WASHINGTON, DC — Wyoming resident Rob Wallace is one step closer to overseeing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service following unanimous approval of his appointment to the post by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee on Wednesday morning. 

Wallace, nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, received commendations from Republican and Democrats alike during the meeting of the 21-member committee.

“I’ve known Rob for over 35 years and without question Rob is the right person for the job,” said EPW Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). “Stakeholders from across the political spectrum agree that Rob is an outstanding choice and I urge my Senate colleagues to support his nomination.”

Minority EPW Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said Wallace was both qualified and ready to lead, noting that Wallace “pledged to uphold science and bolster the expertise of the career staff” at the Department of Interior.

“I believe he is up to the challenge to providing badly needed leadership within the Department of Interior,” Carper said. “I look forward to welcoming Mr. Wallace to Delaware.”

Following the vote, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said he was “delighted” to vote for Wallace and said the two had a “terrific conversation”.

“Even though the organization he would work for is called the Department of Interior, this is a country that has more than interior, it also has edges,” Whitehouse said.  “The edges are our coasts and our coasts are overlooked by the department and he agreed to sit down with a bipartisan group of coastal senators and begin a conversation as to how coastal communities can be treated with more attention and more fairly.”

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a similar meeting on Thursday morning to consider the nomination of Wallace.

Wallace’s appointment must also be approved by the full Senate.

Coalition to sue over state’s new grizzly hunt law

in News/Recreation
989

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A coalition of environmental groups plans to sue the state over a new law giving it the authority to conduct grizzly bear hunts.

The groups, including the Sierra Club, filed a notice this week with the state Game and Fish Department of their intent to sue over the statue, which was signed into law about a week ago by Gov. Mark Gordon.

The groups, in a news release, said the law is contrary to a federal judge’s ruling last year that said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service erred by removing grizzlies from the endangered species list and giving management of grizzly bears to the state.

But backers of the law, as well as the law itself, maintain that federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act require cooperation between federal and state governments.

Senate File 93, signed into law by Gordon on Feb. 15, was the Legislature’s response to a federal judge’s ruling in September that halted a hunting season on grizzlies.

The hunting season was scheduled after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had ruled recovery goals for grizzlies in Wyoming had been met and the animals could be removed from the endangered species list.The Fish and Wildlife Service is appealing the judge’s decision.

SF 93 would give the Game and Fish Department the right to declare a hunting season for grizzlies if it determined such a hunt would be beneficial to the state’s residents.

The coalition, which also includes the Center for Biological Diversity and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, said the new law violates the Endangered Species Act and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives federal law primacy over state law.

“This state law directly and unlawfully conflicts with the clear mandate of the federal Endangered Species Act that grizzly bears not be shot by trophy hunters seeking their heads and hides for bragging rights,” said Nichola Arrivo, a staff attorney with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), another member of the coalition.

But the law’s backers maintain the Endangered Species Act requires federal officials to work cooperatively with states in managing endangered species, so the law is valid.

The law itself raises the same point.

“In enacting the Endangered Species Act, the United States Congress requires the United States secretary of the interior to cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the states in conserving and managing any endangered or threatened species,” it said.

Jim Allen, an outfitter in Fremont County who served in the Legislature from 2015 through 2018, said if nothing else, the legislation would show the state’s intent that federal laws be administered in accordance with laws in effect in the state.

“What (bill sponsor) Sen. (Wyatt) Agar’s (R-Thermopolis) bill does is just one more statement by the state that can’t be ignored by the (federal) agencies,” Allen said. “State and county use plans are statements the federal government is supposed to abide by.”

While the federal government may not recognize the law’s validity, it will still send a message, Allen said.

“Nothing else that we’ve tried has worked to gain (grizzly bear) management, so why not pass a bill?” he said. “It can’t hurt.”

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