Editorial:

After wildlife incidents, many comments are off-base

Posted

When a local resident killed a mountain lion in his yard just south of Powell last week, many in our community were surprised the carnivorous cat was hanging out so close to town. We also were grateful it didn’t hurt anyone, especially considering the couple’s grandchildren play in that backyard, just minutes from Southside Elementary School.

When you live in Wyoming, you know wildlife is all around us — and that comes with risks as well as respect.

We know there’s potential for a mountain lion to be watching from a tree above, whether you’re in the backcountry or in your own backyard. We also know it’s possible to encounter other dangerous animals — chief among them, grizzly bears. The Cody community has been on edge over the past week after a large male grizzly was spotted in town. And on Sunday, a bear attacked a hiker in the Beartooth Mountains.

This news isn’t all that rare. People have encounters with wildlife in Wyoming and not all of them are pleasant — it’s part of living here.

While many of us understand the risks, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’d do when faced with a mountain lion in your yard or a grizzly on a hiking trail.

Unfortunately, the harshest criticism in these types of wildlife encounters often comes from people who are hundreds of miles away or safely tucked behind a computer keyboard.

Part of the internet’s beauty is that it connects our rural community to people around the world and makes it easy to instantly share opinions. But that’s also what can make the internet a beast.

When the Tribune’s story about the mountain lion was shared online last week, comments poured in from out-of-state readers.

Some simply expressed strong objections to the mountain lion being killed, but many were hateful and vile, as online posts too often are.

They also were out of touch. We’re always wary of people who know little about Wyoming telling us how to manage our wildlife and land.

From mountain lions to moose, elk to egrets, bison to badgers, over 600 different wildlife species live in Wyoming — something that can’t be said about the states where many of the online commenters live. While development threatens to hinder animals’ natural habitat in our state, management decisions often need to balance the welfare of both the wildlife and people who live here.

Conversations about management may be contentious at times, but they’re best when they happen at a local level and face-to-face. It’s hard to take online commenters seriously when they’re cloaked by anonymity or behind a digital screen far removed from Wyoming.

Out-of-state critics often fail to understand the complicated issues surrounding wildlife management. When an animal gets into a developed area, the answer isn’t always as simple as relocating the animal to another area.

Just days before the Powell incident, a mountain lion was caught in a Cody backyard. That lion was found to be in poor health and had been surviving on house cats and deer living within the city limits. It was euthanized.

Even after bears are relocated, they can become repeat offenders, frequenting developed areas or repeatedly killing livestock. Last year, 13 Wyoming grizzlies were removed after conflicts. Of those, 11 were killed and two orphaned cubs were placed in a zoo facility.

“While each situation is unique, grizzly bears were removed due to a history of previous conflicts, a known history of close association with humans, or they were deemed unsuitable for release into the wild (e.g. orphaned cubs, poor physical condition, or human safety concern),”  the Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrote in a 2017 report.

That’s one reason why we support a conservative grizzly hunt, targeted in areas where there are known conflicts with bears. It’s better for a bear to be a trophy than, as sometimes happens, to end up in a landfill after being euthanized.

While hunting can be controversial — especially in the case of grizzly bears — it is an ethical way to help manage wildlife populations.

Despite the criticism out-of-state commenters may hurl our way, Wyomingites value and respect the wildlife that live around us — and we want to see them continue to thrive in their habitats.

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