A bill that would ban sport hunting of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states gets a hearing in a U.S. House committee Wednesday. It would extend protections for grizzlies even if they’re removed from the endangered species list.
The “Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act,” by the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva, would require federal agencies to work with tribes to consider reintroducing more grizzlies in their historic range.
David Bearshield, chairman of a tribal coalition dedicated to grizzly protection called GOAL - says the bill represents the heart of years of tribal advocacy. He says that advocacy sought, "To bring some type of legislation to the table that was not just gonna keep that animal on the endangered species list but was gonna allow some type of law to be put in place to where it would ensure tribal consultation."
The bill comes two years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protections for Yellowstone-area bears
That prompted more than 200 U.S. and Canadian tribal groups to sign a treaty calling for continued protection for the bruins.
"It’s a very spiritual animal. And people don’t see it like that," Bearshield says.
In September, a federal judge in Missoula restored Endangered Species Act protections for the bears. That decision put a stop to scheduled grizzly hunts in Wyoming and Idaho and stalled federal plans to delist an even larger population of grizzlies in and around Glacier National Park.
But the feds filed an intent to appeal that decision late last year. They have until May 24 to file their briefs. Until then, they can still pull out of the appeal process.
The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill last session that authorized a grizzly hunt despite the animal’s Endangered Species Act protection - it’s been listed as “threatened” since 1975, making hunting illegal under federal law. But last month, state wildlife officials nixed a prospective grizzly hunt.
Montana is home to four of the six federally designated grizzly ecosystems, and Grijalva’s bill would make it harder to euthanize problem bears as grizzly populations expand. But the bill would also grant states and tribes five times as much federal money to deal with livestock loss from both grizzlies and wolves as was previously available.
Grijalva’s bill is co-sponsored by Democrats from California, Colorado and New Mexico.