Grizzly delisting isn’t just about a trophy hunt

Posted 9/21/21

Over the years, the State of Wyoming has spent a lot of time and resources helping the grizzly population recover and fighting for the ability to manage the bears. The fight is continuing as Gov. …

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Grizzly delisting isn’t just about a trophy hunt


Over the years, the State of Wyoming has spent a lot of time and resources helping the grizzly population recover and fighting for the ability to manage the bears. The fight is continuing as Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday that Wyoming is once again seeking state management of the species.

“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear has met and exceeded all scientific benchmarks for recovery,” Gordon said Thursday.

Multiple presidential administrations have attempted to delist grizzlies over the years. Delisting was proposed under former President Barack Obama in 2016 and would have allowed states to conduct limited hunting of the bears for the first time in decades. Governors, senators, representatives and other lawmakers have made similar cases for delisting, but federal protections remain, despite evidence that grizzlies have recovered.

When first listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, as few as 136 grizzlies roamed the Greater Yellowstone. Today, that number has grown to more than 1,000, based on refined population estimates.

The bears are an icon of the West, and given how grim their outlook appeared in the 1970s, we should all be celebrating their recovery as a success story. But instead, environmentalists continue to push for the thriving bear population to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Unfortunately, grizzlies have run out of room. When hungry bears end up in developed areas — leading to conflicts with humans — the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is called upon to move the bruins. But it’s increasingly difficult to find available habitat.

“The thing we’re dealing with now is, 20 years ago relocation was a lot different because there weren’t near as many bears,” said Dan Thompson, who leads the large carnivore section for the Game and Fish. “There was more open home range areas, and you could move a bear and find a place for it to live. Nowadays, it’s just hard to do that.”

Thompson recently told the Tribune that “the species has reached its carrying capacity inside core habitat.”

Oftentimes, hunting is used as a management tool for wildlife populations. Wyoming approved a hunt for up to 22 grizzly bears in 2018, before it was stopped by a federal judge.

But it’s important to recognize that grizzlies are being killed every year — not because they’re being hunted, but because they’ve run out of suitable habitat.

So far this year, 25 grizzlies have been put down, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Reasons include frequenting agricultural areas, killing sheep and cattle, property damage while searching for food, obtaining numerous food rewards and repeated bold behavior at guest lodges and trailheads.

What is more respectful to an incredible species like the grizzly bear: To be hunted and prized like the trophy animal it is, or to be euthanized and discarded?

Last week, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity claimed “the only reason the states want more management control is so they can kill more bears and allow a trophy hunt.”

That’s hyperbole. In reality, Wyoming already must deal with the growing bear population, but with limited tools and resources to do so. It’s not about “killing more bears” — it’s about effective management for a healthy population. 

Hunters play a vital role in wildlife conservation in Wyoming.

“Hunters’ dollars from license revenue, being the largest portion of Game and Fish funding, cover many programs in WGFD’s work,” wrote Auna Kaufmann, field coordinator with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

Projects like elk feedgrounds, fish stocking, public access areas and Wildlife Habitat Management Areas are all funded, at least partially, by hunters, Kaufmann wrote earlier this year. Meanwhile, conservation stamps — required for every hunter and angler in Wyoming —  go toward a perpetual trust account funding habitat and wildlife education projects, hunting and fishing access opportunities, as well as research, habitat improvements and initiatives for specific species.

A grizzly hunt would help generate funds for further conservation efforts throughout the Cowboy State.

“We have proved time and time again that we are experts in wildlife conservation for our state’s valued and iconic species,” Gov. Gordon said. “It’s time for grizzly bears to be returned fully to the states for management, as our citizens have supported recovery efforts and seen monumental success.”

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s bears have recovered to the point where they’re no longer threatened. For environmental groups to continue calling for help and protections when they’re not needed is like crying wolf — another once-threatened species that has been succeeding under Wyoming’s management.

Federal officials and judges should recognize that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department can be trusted to effectively manage grizzlies while ensuring the bears continue to thrive.