Wyoming’s tribes are skeptical of a Native American wildlife group’s plan to expand the range of grizzly bears onto tribal lands throughout the West. Guardians of Our Ancestor’s Legacy or GOAL has proposed putting any grizzlies Wyoming considers over its population limit on reservations.
Jason Baldes is the director of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center and the son of a longtime wildlife manager on the reservation. He says the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes are lucky to have lots of great habitat for grizzly bears.
“We chose the Warm Valley, or yuwa dai in the Shoshone language, for the plentiful fish and game,” Baldes says. “And this area rises from 4,000 to 13,000 feet that’s got several hundred miles of rivers and streams and over 200 lakes. So we have ideal habitat for bears in both mountain ranges: the Owl Creeks to the north and the Wind Rivers to the west.”
But Baldes says most tribes don’t have such healthy habitat for the species. He says many reservation lands were whittled down by the federal government in the late 1800’s to areas too small to host such large predators.
He says with so little good habitat the grizzly shouldn’t be removed from the Endangered Species List and that it would be disappointing to see the grizzly delisted after all the hard work the tribes themselves have put into bringing them back. For instance, Baldes says the tribes recently worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to count grizzlies on the reservation.
“In the northern boundaries of the reservation in one drainage alone, we counted six and there were several that weren’t captured,” says Baldes.
He says more grizzlies are moving onto tribal lands, but that doesn’t mean there are enough to delist the species. Baldes also says the state of Wyoming certainly shouldn’t allow trophy hunting, as the grizzly is highly respected in the traditions of both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho.
“We utilize our fisheries and our wildlife species to feed ourselves, not necessarily for trophy hunting. That’s a world view that was brought from Europeans,” he says.
At a visit to Wyoming last week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said the grizzly may be delisted as soon as the end of the year.