Groups seek ban on bear-baiting in Idaho, Wyoming forests

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Hunting black bears by using bait in national forests in Idaho and Wyoming should be banned because hunters have killed federally protected grizzlies that were attracted to the food, conservation groups say in a lawsuit.

Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Wilderness Watch filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court challenging the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The federal agencies are violating environmental laws by allowing the practice that has resulted in the deaths of at least eight grizzly bears since 1995 in national forests, the groups allege.

The groups also said the bait stations get the bears used to human food.

"Federal agencies are bound by the law to recover threatened grizzlies, and knowingly allowing bear-baiting flagrantly violates that duty," Lindsay Larris of WildEarth Guardians said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, didn't immediately respond Thursday to an inquiry.

The lawsuit contends the federal agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult about whether using bait to hunt black bears is harming grizzlies.

The lawsuit also said the Forest Service is violating environmental laws by failing to prepare a supplemental environmental review on the issue. An environmental analysis from the early 1990s must be reviewed because there's significant new information to be considered, it says.

Both states have restrictions on where bait can be used to hunt black bears. Idaho prohibits hunting black bears using bait in areas inhabited by grizzlies.

Wyoming prohibits the practice in grizzly bear recovery areas.

But the conservation groups say 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.

"Grizzlies are making their way to the vast, wild country of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and they'll get there if we let them," Dana Johnson of Wilderness Watch said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the many bait stations scattered along that path are death-magnets for dispersing bears."

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