With a unanimous vote, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission members approved Wednesday the state’s first grizzly hunt in 44 years.
Details of the hunting season have been modified a bit since Wyoming first announced a hunt was in the works, with up to 22 bears that could potentially be harvested this fall.
The total harvest could be well below that figure. The 22-bear quota includes taking up to 10 males and one female in the “demographic monitoring area” around Yellowstone National Park; as soon as one sow is killed, the hunting in that area will halt.
The vote is sure to add fuel to a debate that’s been raging between environmentalists, Game and Fish and pro-hunting groups since grizzlies were delisted from Endangered Species Act protection a year ago. Each side presents valid points, but the fact remains that grizzlies have recovered more thoroughly than anyone could have predicted, from just 136 bears in 1975 to now more than 700 in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Because of this, encounters between bears and humans have increased significantly, with the most recent coming just last week on Sheep Mountain southwest of Cody; a sow was killed by a hiker, who said it was a case of self-defense.
Simply stated, the bear population has reached a number that can no longer be ignored, and Wyoming is now free to manage that population in a way that’s mutually beneficial to animals and humans. Wyoming is one of three states that was given back management responsibilities of its bears after federal delisting — Montana and Idaho being the other two. While Montana has opted out of a hunt this year, Idaho will allow the hunt of one bear this fall. Wyoming has proven itself more than capable of managing its grizzly population and the proposed hunting season wisely appears to be conservative.
As always, public input on the issue was sought after and encouraged leading up to Wednesday’s vote, with 60 percent of Wyoming residents commenting in favor of the hunt. Comments from outside the state generally opposed the hunt, “which was expected,” according to Dan Thompson, the Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore section supervisor.
The fact remains that management of any large species that poses a potential threat to humans or livestock will likely include a hunting component as part of that regulation. Other species managed by the department through hunts, such as wolves, black bears and mountain lions, have thrived. This year’s hunt has been carefully planned to protect the species, as well as the humans who enjoy observing them.
“The agency is removing every year several female and male bears for conflict reasons, and if hunting reduces that, it’s a good thing,” Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for the state Game and Fish Department, told the Casper Star-Tribune recently.
The Yellowstone grizzly population has recovered, and has been considered recovered since 2004. Grizzlies continue to thrive, have been delisted and now must be managed, for the health and betterment of bears and humans alike.