Last week the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted to move forward with a plan that would lead to the hunting of up to 22 grizzly bears this fall and possibly more in the future. It would be the first grizzly bear hunt in Wyoming since the bear was listed as threatened in 1975. The hunt is part of the Game and Fish Department’s long-range plan for managing the grizzly.
The hunting regulation passed unanimously with only minor discussion and no debate. It will allow individuals to hunt one grizzly each, up to 10 grizzlies in an area around Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and 12 more in a larger area in western Wyoming. After the vote, Wyoming Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott was thrilled.
“Certainly this is a historic moment in the state of Wyoming and certainly we’ll have to wait and see what happens with the litigation, but we, by adopting this regulation today, we’ve established an application period and will move forward to implement the regulation.”
Game and Fish officials have studied the growth in grizzlies for decades and have pushed hard to get the bear removed from the endangered species list. That happened in 2017. When the bear was first listed there were 136 of them in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Now, Game and Fish says there are well over 700, and Talbott said the growth and expansion of Grizzlies has led to a number of conflicts, including more encounters with humans.
“As the ecosystem fills with bears and you saw the map today with the extensive expansion of the distribution and the range of the grizzly bear in Wyoming, those conflicts become more and more common and more severe,” he said.
Talbott added that managing, which means controlling the grizzly population, is important. Game and Fish officials say hunting is an important management tool.
Others aren’t so sure. Chris Colligan is a Wildlife Coordinator with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He echoed the sentiments of a number of opponents who say that a Grizzly hunt roughly a year after they were removed from federal protection is too much too fast.
“The margin for error by killing one too many female bears potentially causes the population to decline,” said Colligan.
The female bear issue is of great concern because grizzlies reproduce slowly. In fact, Game and Fish will only allow one female to be killed in the area around the national parks, and once a female is killed, the hunt in that area automatically comes to an end. The Department says it will use technology to alert hunters that they must end their hunt.
Longtime Jackson wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen said that sounds good on paper. But he is someone who’s taken pictures of grizzlies for years and Mangelsen suggests that few people can tell the difference between a male and female. Mangelsen said grizzlies are iconic and shouldn’t be hunted.
“All they do is talk about numbers and harvest levels as if they were some kind of crop. I grew up in Nebraska and we talk about harvesting corn and wheat and oats, and they talk about harvesting grizzly bears as if they’re some commodity.”
Dan Thompson heads up the large carnivore section of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He said the idea to hunt grizzlies actually came from the public, and there continues to be a lot of support for a grizzly hunt within the state. Thompson said in his opinion, the fact that they can even consider a hunt is a success.
“And we’re proud to be at a point where we have a recovered population that can sustain a harvest and I guess that’s what it boils down to. I understand philosophically why some people are for or against it, but at the end of the day the population can biologically sustain hunting,” he said.
Thompson added that they are treating grizzlies the same as any other large carnivore, and that there will still be plenty of opportunities for tourists and photographers to see grizzlies. He said hunting is just part of the wildlife experience.
But the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s Chris Colligan disagrees.
“We should consider treating grizzly bears differently, and just because you can hunt them doesn’t mean that Wyoming has to. “
Licenses will be $600 for in-state residents and $6,000 dollars for out of state residents. The hunt is scheduled for September, but Game and Fish officials anticipate a number of court challenges before a hunt takes place. One of those will come from Native American tribes who say Wyoming is disrespecting the importance of Grizzlies in their culture.