Newly released statistics show 2018 was the deadliest year on record for the region’s grizzly bears.Wildlife managers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho euthanized a total of 42 grizzlies last year …
Newly released statistics show 2018 was the deadliest year on record for the region’s grizzly bears.
Wildlife managers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho euthanized a total of 42 grizzlies last year — including 32 in Wyoming. That was a record number of “lethal removals” in the state — up 45 percent from the previous record of 22.
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen reinstated endangered species protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem last year. Finding that the U.S. Fish and Willife acted improperly in delisting the species, Christensen halted planned bear hunts in Wyoming and Idaho.
Regardless of the bears’ legal status, Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists say the increased euthanizations reflect that the carrying capacity of suitable grizzly habitat in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is maxed out; as grizzly bears move out of the places deemed to be suitable habitat, more and more bears are getting into conflicts with people and livestock.
At last week’s Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting in Cody, the department’s top two large carnivore experts detailed 2018 conflicts that resulted in the loss of a man’s life and four human injuries, plus dead livestock and pets. The newly elected president of the commission, David Rael of Cowley, stopped the report to ask for clarification.
Rael’s question was pointed: “For the record, we were shut down on a 24-bear quota [hunt] by Judge Christensen and we euthanized 32?”
Brian DeBolt, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore conflict coordinator, confirmed the number. DeBolt pointed out a portion of the bears that were lethally removed could have been available for harvest had Wyoming’s grizzly hunt been allowed to run as scheduled. It’s impossible to say whether hunters would have taken the same bears trapped by the large carnivore team.
To be accurate, many of the removals weren’t authorized by Game and Fish biologists, but by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has managed grizzlies since they returned to federal protections in late September.
Rael has been on a grizzly-trapping mission with the large carnivore team, follows its progress closely and presumably knew the answer to his own question — which appeared to be a jab at the federal judge.
During the recent legislative session, Wyoming lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a pair of bills expressing their displeasure with the grizzlies’ relisting. One bill theoretically allows the Game and Fish Commission to hold hunts in spite of the judge’s decision and says grizzlies scheduled for euthanization can be relocated to California or other states willing to accept them.
It highlights a changing attitude toward the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s top predator.
Following Judge Christensen’s ruling, “quite honestly, there’s a different level of tolerance with the general public,” said Dan Thompson, large carnivore program coordinator for the Game and Fish.
While environmental groups, tribes and thousands of people across the nation were in an uproar over the possibility of grizzly hunts near Yellowstone National Park borders, Park County residents are increasingly growing weary of conflicts as the footprint of areas inhabited by grizzlies continues to grow. The total number of conflicts by all predators are driven by grizzly bears, DeBolt said.