Grizzly bears may be taken off the Endangered Species list soon. And, hunts are part of Wyoming’s bear management plans. Those planned hunts are drawing fire from tribes, the Sierra Club, and comments from Yellowstone National Park.
For 40 plus years, the only people who have hunted grizzlies here are tourists and photographers. They come from around the world, hoping for a glimpse of the country’s largest and most powerful carnivore.
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk revealed the results of a Park survey at a Cody luncheon.
He said, “Why do visitors come? The top reason is the viewable wildlife.”
After the luncheon, Wenk explained, “Wolves, bears, bison, elk. It really is wildlife. It’s one of the greatest wildlife displays certainly in the United States, certainly in the lower 48, and people recognize that and they come.”
But in the early seventies, there weren’t many grizzlies to see in Yellowstone and no wolves.
There were only 136 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1975 when the species was listed as threatened under the endangered species act. The grizzly was delisted in 2007 before a 2009 court ruling put them back under federal protection. After a review, the federal government proposed delisting again last year.
Wyoming’s Game and Fish regional wildlife supervisor Alan Osterland is based in Park County and he said they are ready to take over management of the bear. Part of that management will be grizzly hunts.
He explained, “That’s our management tool is hunting. We will propose a season, which will go to public comment, and then ultimately would be ratified by the commission.”
Yellowstone Superintendent Wenk said he’d like the hunting to be focused on problem bears, Osterland said Game and Fish is not willing to go that far.
Osterland commented, “Whether it’s a black bear or big game animal, we always try to use hunting to mitigate that problem. I anticipate that might be some of the same process we will use when hunting grizzly bears. However, the department doesn’t feel that it’s our place to be telling where they can go, which bear they can shoot.”
Osterland pointed out the state of Wyoming has spent 40 million dollars to help recover the bear. He says some hunters will want a backcountry experience.
But, Sierra Club spokeswoman Bonnie Rice says there shouldn’t be any hunts at all, mainly because they aren’t needed. She points to official estimates that grizzly numbers are declining from a high estimate of 750 bears to 690 last year.
She pointed out, “We think that has a lot to do with the decline in food sources because of climate change that grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem are facing, and record high mortalities that are related to bears seeking other food sources, coming into closer contact, for example, hunters.”
Billboards for and against delisting have appeared around Cody for a year now. One says: WOLF, GRIZZ, DELIST, HUNT. The newest billboard says, “Wanna See Bears? Say No to Trophy Hunting”
A tribal group put up a billboard last year that said, “WHY? Yellowstone’s Grizzlies are Not Trophies.”
Rice said that is an issue that should be considered.
She said, “There are over 120 tribal nations that have signed a treaty against delisting. Tribes have been calling for consultation with the U.S. Government on delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear population, and that has not happened yet.”
Game and Fish Officials say they are preparing for delisting soon.