A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s policy allowing states to decide whether black bear hunters can use bait.
The lawsuit, filed last summer by the Fund for Animals and other conservation groups, said the Forest Service’s nationwide bear-baiting policy violated federal law, in part, because it did not require environmental impact statements.
They had argued the practice could increase the risk to threatened or endangered species. Fund for Animals spokesman Mike Markarian contended that hunters at times have killed grizzly bears, mistaking them for the more populous black bears.
The Forest Service said because bear baiting is a hunting practice rather than a land-use tool, individual states should be allowed to develop their own policies for hunting on the agency’s lands.
“We are certainly planning to appeal,” Markarian said. “It was an absolutely ridiculous decision.”
In Idaho, voters are being asked this fall to ban bear baiting as well as the spring bear hunt and hunting bears with dogs. Although a coalition of sportsmen and other groups spent over $200,000 during the 18 months before the initiative gained a spot on the Nov. 5 ballot, spokesman John Watts said there was not any attempt to keep the proposition from coming to a vote.
Similar propositions have been adopted by voters in other states where they have gained ballot status.
The ruling, issued by U.S. District Judge Thomas Jackson, said because the Forest Service allows individual states to regulate hunting on Forest Service lands, the agency did not have to prepare an environmental impact statement on the practice.
The conservation groups’ “longrange objective is to cause the Forest Service, if it refuses to do so on its own, … to abolish most if not all hunting activity on federal forest lands,” Jackson wrote in his ruling.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department assistant chief game warden Harry Harju said the ruling confirmed the states’ authority over hunting.
“What the court said is that the state has the right to manage bears and the methods to take bears,” he said.
In North Idaho, only a fifth of the 380 bears killed last year were hunted with bait or dogs.
In Wyoming, only about 6 percent of the state’s 5,000 black bear hunters are successful each year, Harju said, suggesting that baiting is not as effective as critics claim.
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