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Advocacy group sues Idaho Fish and Game and USFWS over controversial grizzly bear killings

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., in 2011.
Jim Urquhart
A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., in 2011.

A Montana-based advocacy group is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and three employees of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game over the killing of three grizzly bears last year in eastern Idaho, which it claims violated the Endangered Species Act.

Last November, Idaho Fish and Game killed a sow and two cubs, saying the bears showed little fear toward humans and had become habituated to areas near homes in rural Fremont County.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court late last month, the nonprofit Save the Yellowstone Grizzly argued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by giving the state agency the okay to kill the bears.

Dan Brister, an attorney with the firm Ferguson & Coppes, which is representing Save the Yellowstone Grizzly, said being near some houses doesn’t constitute a reason to kill grizzlies, which are a threatened species under the ESA.

“The bears really never posed any threat to any humans," he said. "They didn't make any depredations on livestock. They hadn't obtained any unnatural food sources.”

Citing communications obtained via public record request, the lawsuit also alleges that USFWS employees expressed reservations about Idaho pursuing the killings, and that the federal agency had revoked authorization to kill the second cub, as it said it had identified a potential spot for relocation.

"And, yet, the Idaho officials went ahead anyway," Brister said.

The filing included an excerpt from an email exchange between USFWS officials, allegedly sent after they learned Idaho had killed the second cub, which suggested the move was unprecedented.

"Has a state ever removed a bear without approval"? asked Matt Hogan, a USFWS regional director based in Colorado, according to the lawsuit.

"Not that I'm aware of[.]" said Hilary Cooley, the USFWS grizzly bear recovery coordinator.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they can't comment on ongoing litigation.

Conservation groups said Idaho's top grizzly bear biologist resigned over these killings last year.

Meanwhile, the Biden Administration is weighing ending federal protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and near Glacier National Park. Earlier this year, Idaho announced plans to sue the federal government over not delisting across the entirety of the lower 48 states.

Save the Yellowstone Grizzly is seeking a court order saying the agencies violated the ESA, as well as an injunction barring them from killing grizzly bears outside of the exemptions in the federal law.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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