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SB 1084: Exempting Yellowstone Bear World from state regulations — 2023

Summary: SB 1084 would free Yellowstone Bear World and other captive wildlife exhibitors from following state rules.

ICL's position: Oppose

Current Bill Status: Law

Issue Areas: Fish and Wildlife

Official Legislative Site

Senate Bill 1084 was introduced in the Senate Resources Committee by a lawyer from Givens Pursley, representing Yellowstone Bear World, a private commercial facility in Rexburg, Idaho which displays captive bears and other wildlife.

The facility has been criticized for treatment of the animals and complaints were filed in 2022 with several agencies including the Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG). In other past instances, animals have escaped from the facility and were killed.

In response to the 2022 allegations of mistreatment of wildlife and employee safety, OSHA opened an investigation that appears to be ongoing, and USDA apparently did not investigate. Only the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) issued a notice of violation related to “feeding of wildlife,” and now Yellowstone Bear World is seeking to exempt the facility, and other Idaho private wildlife menageries, from state regulation.

The problem isn’t simply that this is a revenge bill against an agency that found fault, it would have unintended consequences.

These include eliminating requirements for import, export, and transport of any wildlife species that may be kept at these private “zoos.” This would include wildlife such as elk, deer, wolves, bears, lions, and other native and exotic species that can threaten native wildlife, spread disease, and pollute wildlife genetics if they escape. Chronic Wasting Disease is a particular concern, since it was discovered in Idaho in 2022 for the first time.

It’s important to note that USDA regulations for these type of Class C facilities (wildlife exhibitors) only relate to “animal welfare,” and do not cover other important considerations such as import permits, notification of state or local agencies, or bonding. The removal of state regulations would eliminate the requirement for a bond, which can provide needed funds if, and when, animals escape (which has happened several times with elk, lions, tigers, wolves, and even ligers…)

If passed the bill would also mean that neither the IDFG, nor Idaho State Department of Agriculture would be notified when USDA-permitted facilities brought animals into Idaho.