(Reuters) - Wildlife advocates notified the Obama administration on Wednesday that they planned to sue to prevent the deaths of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area tied to elk hunting and livestock grazing on public lands in northwest Wyoming.
The Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated provisions of the Endangered Species Act by permitting as many as four grizzlies to be killed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming because of an elk hunt there and as many as 11 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, where bears sometimes prey on livestock on grazing allotments.
The groups argue that anticipated grizzly deaths stemming from the activities in the park and nearby forest, as well as expected deaths of grizzlies elsewhere in the region could mean as many as 65 female bears could be killed annually, three times the mortality limit set by federal wildlife managers.
The planned suit comes as a team of federal, state and tribal biologists that manage grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park said that population of bears no longer faces extinction and should be removed from the federal endangered species list, opening the way for sport hunting.
The hump-shouldered bears, considered an icon of the American West, were listed as threatened in 1975 in the lower 48 states after hunting, trapping and poisoning cut their numbers from as many as 100,000 to an estimated 1,000.
The bulk of grizzlies that still roam the lower 48 are in and around Yellowstone National Park, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The area is home to roughly 600 grizzlies.
It is broadly illegal to kill protected animals but the Fish and Wildlife Service can issue permits for so-called “incidental take” of those creatures and can provide such authorization to other federal agencies that plan activities which might injure or kill listed species.
Encounters in northwest Wyoming between some grizzlies and humans and bear conflicts with livestock have led federal wildlife managers to anticipate a certain number of Yellowstone area grizzlies could be legally killed under certain conditions.
A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said it is the agency’s policy not to comment on ongoing or pending litigation.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh