The state Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved a controversial Wyoming grizzly hunt for the first time since 1975, as 22 bears could be killed under the plan approved today.
The Wyoming grizzly hunt could affect up to 22 grizzly bears, including 11 in a “demographic monitoring area” that includes areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park. While hunting would not take place in the Park, of course, environmental and conservation groups fear any hunting would negatively impact the grizzly’s longterm health and survival chances. Like most wildlife, Yellowstone grizzlies don’t care about National Park boundaries and will move in and out of the Park with ease.
Trophy hunts were discontinued in 1975 when grizzlies ended up on the endangered species list. But a rebound in the population to an estimated 700 grizzlies in the region led federal officials to take Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies off the endangered list, paving the way for state management of grizzly hunts. Montana rejected the whole notion of a grizzly hunt and Idaho is going with a one-bear hunt; Wyoming is going for the hunt of the largest number of grizzlies in the lower 48 states. (Alaska never discontinued an annual hunt.)
Wyoming would allow the killing of one female or 10 male grizzlies in six DMA hunt areas shown above: the area surrounding Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway and the Wind River Reservation, where hunting is not allowed. These DMAs are important habitats for grizzlies and where federal researchers track grizzlies. Twelve grizzlies could be killed in the region outside the DMA.
Licenses will sell for $6,000 for nonresidents and $600 for Wyoming residents. Six of the 24 licenses have been earmarked for nonresidents.
Whether the hunt actually happens will rely on the courts, however. The delisting of Yellowstone-region grizzlies, which came in 2017, has been challenged by several groups, who argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improperly delisted grizzlies. Most of the suits share similar concerns—that the USFWS is ignoring threats to Yellowstone grizzlies and have improperly sought delisting. The USFWS previously announced their intent to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in early June 2017. The decision, in its current iteration, has been in the works since 2015, when then-USFWS director Dan Ashe penned a letter to state wildlife agencies signaling the agency’s approval of delisting.
The Sierra Club echoed the issues raised in the lawsuits in the wake of the Wyoming decision.
“This is a very sad day for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. Wyoming’s decision to allow up to 23 grizzly bears to be killed, including 13 females, just for a trophy on a wall marks a huge setback for grizzly bear recovery,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone campaign in a press statement. “Allowing a trophy hunt of these majestic animals — the second-slowest mammal to reproduce in North America — so soon after they lost Endangered Species protections does nothing to build public confidence in state management of grizzly bears. Even worse, Wyoming’s trophy hunt plan is specifically designed to reduce the Yellowstone grizzly population and eradicate bears from many places where they live today in Wyoming.
“Grizzly bears exist today in the Yellowstone region because the American people made a conscious effort to make the space in our hearts and minds to co-exist with them and to bring them back from the brink of extinction. Grizzlies survive in our midst only by that grace. We can and must do better than this.”