U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale is allowing a lawsuit to proceed that is targeting bear baiting.
A federal judge recently rejected a Trump administration request to have a lawsuit dismissed that was filed by “environmental groups seeking to ban bear baiting to hunt black bears in national forests in Idaho and Wyoming.” According to those environmental groups, “allowing the use of bait violates environmental laws because hunters have ended up killing at least 10 federally protected grizzly bears attracted to the bait.” However, the Trump administration pushed for the suit to be dismissed because “last summer it withdrew some mid-1990s documents on which the lawsuit is based.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale pushed back against the Trump administration and rejected their request, saying “those documents were used to create the 1996 hunting rule that remains in effect.” Why did the environmental groups target the government’s national policy, though? What was wrong with it? Well, according to the suit, the policy “allows states to decide if hunters can use bait for black bears in grizzly habitat, including national forests.” Idaho and Wyoming both allow the practice.
In his ruling, Dale added that the “the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally withdrawing the documents — a biological opinion and incidental take statement — doesn’t make the case moot because hunting for black bears using bait continues.” She added, “Consequently, the challenged activity has not voluntarily ceased.”
While Dale didn’t rule on the merits of the case, she ordered additional court proceedings to be scheduled. In her ruling, she noted that “both the withdrawn documents were expressly referenced as support of the U.S. Forest Service’s conclusion that the national bear-baiting policy that remains in effect provides the needed safeguards in all states to allow bear-baiting.” Her ruling will now allow “Western Watersheds Project and two other environmental groups to file a supplement to their initial complaint concerning the withdrawal of those mid-1990s documents, which the environmental groups contend is illegal.”
Unsure what bear baiting is? For starters, it involves hunters putting out food in the forest. As the bears are lured to the food, hunters hide and wait until the bear gets close enough to shoot. According to the environmental groups and their lawsuit, which was filed in 2019, black bear hunters have used bait to kill “at least 10 grizzly bears in the more than two decades since the policy took effect.” The suit also notes that the bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The conservation groups did note, however, that “bait is allowed in areas important to grizzly bears, such as between the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the Bitterroot ecosystem in central Idaho, and between the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem in northwestern Montana and the Bitterroot ecosystem.”