Wyoming grizzly hunt to target conflict areas

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Wyoming plans to offer a grizzly season for the first time in more than 40 years with a limit of two dozen bears outside of national parks in the northwest corner of the state.

The department is proposing a limit of 24 grizzlies, with up to 12 (10 males and two females) allowed to be taken in six hunt areas bordering Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and an additional 12 in two areas away from the parks.

The proposed hunting season would run from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15 in six of the eight hunt areas (hunt areas 1-6). The season will run for an additional two weeks in hunt areas 7 and 8, away from the parks.

Hunters may take any grizzly except dependent cubs and sows with dependent cubs. The proposed regulations incorporate some suggestions from citizens.

“This draft was shaped by public input we received this fall and winter and the best available science,” said Brian Nesvik, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s chief game warden and chief of the wildlife division. “It contains proposed regulations that would ensure Wyoming will meet its commitment to manage for a healthy and viable population of grizzly bears.”

Input from the public in the draft includes mandatory education for hunters, hunt areas and regulations that direct harvest to areas with higher potential for conflict, the closure of a portion of a hunt area next to Grand Teton National Park to avoid conflicts with wildlife viewing and, in an attempt to keep the killing of grizzlies out of the public eye, hunts must take place at least a half-mile from highways.

Limit quotas within the six hunt areas close to national park properties will be monitored with satellite tracking devices — giving hunters the ability to immediately text Game and Fish officials after a bear is harvested. Only two hunters will be licensed at the same time in six of the eight hunt areas. Once those hunts are successful, two more licenses will be issued.

Hunt area 7, east of the demographic monitoring area (DMA), includes the Powell area and will possibly see hunting in the Heart Mountain, Willwood and McCullough Peaks areas. Hunting outside the DMA would allow baiting. Residents will pay a $5 nonrefundable application fee. Nonresidents, who receive 25 percent of the available licenses, will pay $15 to apply. The cost of grizzly bear licenses was previously set in law by the Wyoming Legislature at $600 for residents and $6,000 for nonresidents.

“We believe this proposal reflects the public support for using hunting as a component of grizzly bear management and has many provisions that will recognize this opportunity and keep the grizzly bear population recovered for generations to come,” Nesvik said.

While there is strong support for the season in Northwest Wyoming, environmental and conservation groups are vowing to fight to stop the season. Several organizations and Native American tribes have filed suit, claiming the species should remain on the Endangered Species List. Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes initially opposed removing the species from the list, signing a Grizzly Treaty last year. Since then, 125 tribes have signed the treaty.

Wyoming, Idaho and Montana were given the right to manage populations in 2017. Mortality limits are developed using a formula outlined in an agreement between the states. Earlier this month, Montana announced it will not hold a hunt in 2018. In a news release, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Martha Williams said the decision is meant to reinforce the state’s commitment to the species’ long-term survival.

“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams said.

The number of bears that can be harvested in Wyoming and Idaho remains the same despite Montana’s decision. Montana also cited ongoing legal challenges played a part in the announcement. The news was met with approval from several organizations, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

“We applaud the commission for this recent move,” Shana Drimal, wildlife program associate of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said in a March 2 release. “We’ve seen two years of record grizzly bear deaths because of conflicts with humans. And we simply can’t risk America’s 40-year, $40-million investment to bring bears back from the brink of extinction.”

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