Yellowstone Bear World, fined by OSHA, lobbies for bill to nix oversight of wildlife parks

Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman on

Published in Outdoors

Idaho lawmakers have moved forward with a bill crafted by a Rexburg drive-thru wildlife park that would remove Idaho Fish and Game and Idaho State Department of Agriculture oversight for similar facilities.

Yellowstone Bear World crafted the bill, which would exempt Bear World and other U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed Idaho animal exhibitors from state regulations related to captive wildlife.

Those regulations include providing Fish and Game with animal birth records, death records and import and export records. State regulation also requires exhibitors to provide Fish and Game with a bond of at least $50,000 to cover the costs of disease control, containment of escaped animals or other emergencies.

The legislation easily passed the Idaho Senate on Thursday, but the Idaho Conservation League and Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, expressed concerns that the bill could allow disease to spread and leave taxpayers on the hook for capture efforts in the event that captive animals escape — as one wolf at Yellowstone Bear World did in the past.

They also criticized the decision to remove regulations from the facility less than a year after it was cited for rule violations by Fish and Game and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Conservation group ‘disappointed’


The Idaho Fish and Game Commission opposed the initial version of the bill, which would have removed the agency’s oversight of all captive animal species kept by wildlife exhibitors. After legislators amended the bill to carve out oversight stipulations for captive deer species, the commission took a neutral stance, Fish and Game spokesperson Roger Phillips told the Idaho Statesman.

The stipulation allows Fish and Game to monitor deer, elk and moose that could potentially spread chronic wasting disease, a fatal illness that was first detected in Idaho deer in late 2021.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, external relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, told the Statesman the environmental group was “disappointed in Fish and Game taking a neutral position on this bill that will continue to impact wildlife.”

As Bear World’s name suggests, it’s home to black bears and grizzlies. It also has moose, bison, elk, deer and farm animals like goats and pigs.


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