A grizzly bear frequents a ranch in this photograph that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department used to illustrate its annual report on conflicts with and relocations of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Conflicts with livestock led the list of reasons for moving bears. Those run-ins were with cattle, sheep, pigs, ducks and chickens. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

A week before the Legislature begins its 2016 budget session, conflicts over conservation are breaking out across Wyoming involving wolves, grizzlies, tourism traffic and trapping.

In one dust-up, Teton County’s prosecutor says a committee bill would prevent him from enforcing poaching laws that protect grizzly bears and wolves. Under another legislative proposal, lawmakers want to require the Game and Fish Commission to allow mountain lion trapping, imposing a requirement on an appointed board that’s been touted for its independence.

Meantime, the Game and Fish Department released a tally of grizzly bear trapping and relocations in 2015, a year when it killed or removed 17 of the threatened animals from the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Also, Gov. Matt Mead and Teton County commissioners disagree on a plan by Grand Teton National Park for preserving the Moose-Wilson Road Corridor by limiting traffic and forgoing construction of a bicycle path.

Prosecutor could not enforce grizzly, wolf laws

The Teton County attorney says a bill that would bar Game and Fish employees from aiding federal officials in some investigations would keep him from prosecuting wolf and grizzly poaching. Teton County Attorney Steve Weichman said HB-18 is the first instance he knows of that the Legislature would ban cooperation, let alone make it a crime.

The bill, sponsored by the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee, applies to Game and Fish work on grizzly and wolf cases while the species remain under federal protection. But it would also put the cuffs on work by any “Wyoming law enforcement officer.”

“I’m not aware of any time the Legislature has prohibited state law enforcement from working with federal law enforcement,” Weichman said. “I’m also not aware of any time they’ve actually made it a crime for local law enforcement to cooperate with federal law enforcement.”

The prohibition would apply to him, he said. “The Wyoming Supreme Court a long, long time ago said that the county attorney is the chief law enforcement officer in the county,” Weichman said, putting him under the proposed law’s jurisdiction.

Several grizzly cases have been adjudicated in Teton County under Weichman. “We certainly enforce the law,” he said. “We have had numerous cases come through here. If somebody brings me a case, if this law is enacted, I won’t touch it.”

Mead, Teton County, disagree on park pathway

After telling Teton County he wants to speak to Grand Teton National Park with a unified voice, Gov. Matt Mead has broken with the local government on whether a new bike path should be built there.

Teton County, the Town of Jackson and the Teton Village Association “agreed to provide the governor with their consensus,” on the park’s plan for the congested Moose-Wilson Road, a policy advisor for Mead asserted in a letter to county officials. The letter came after Mead called a Cheyenne meeting last November about the park’s plans to curb traffic and not build a bike path.

The parties, however, never reached that consensus. Teton County doesn’t back construction of a new bike path, commissioners said in a Jan. 26 letter to Grand Teton Superintendent David Vela. In doing so, Teton County sided with the Park Service in the conservation tiff. The county raised other issues and said buses may be a traffic solution but shouldn’t overwhelm the environment “with an overly aggressive transit system.”

Mead, however, believes a bike path, among other options, could improve safety along the rural route. “These options range from a separated pathway to potential realignment of sections of the Moose-Wilson Road,” he wrote. Nevertheless, “I respect and give weight to their position,” Mead said of the county.

Grand Teton wants to limit traffic to 200 cars at a time. The narrow lane traverses some of the most sensitive habitat in the park and also is the closest motorized park access from commercial interests at Teton Village. The president of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort told Mead in November he has problems with the limit on cars. The Teton Village Association wrote Grand Teton saying the park should support a bike path part way along the road from Teton Village, a path it approved previously in 2007.

Bill would require Game and Fish to allow cougar trapping

A bill filed in the legislature would take away Wyoming Game and Fish Commission discretion on mountain lion trapping. HB-12 would require Game and Fish to allow trapping and snaring of mountain lions, a practice the agency doesn’t permit today.

 Wyoming has touted the experience, authority and wisdom of its appointed Game and Fish Commission when it comes to setting seasons and regulations. For example, Game and Fish Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik recently touted the commission’s game management wisdom when questioned whether the agency would capably manage a grizzly hunting season once bears lose federal Endangered Species Act protection.

The Wyoming Legislature has weighed in on wildlife management before — codifying Wyoming’s wolf management plan in law, for example. Legislators also passed a law last year requiring the removal of native bighorn sheep from the Wyoming Range should any U.S. Forest Service domestic sheep grazing allotments be reduced. Domestic sheep are known to transmit a deadly pneumonia to native bighorns.

Game and Fish trapped 45 grizzlies in 2015

Wyoming Game and Fish Department trapped 45 grizzly bears in 2015, according to an annual report required by the Wyoming Legislature. The 45 trappings were the result of 51 “capture events,” during which bears were captured, relocated, released, or removed to prevent or resolve conflicts, the report says. Seventeen of the 51 events resulted in the killing or removal of the bear to a zoo.

Wyoming Game and Fish mapped its grizzly bear capture operations around the Yellowstone ecosystem in an annual report required by the Wyoming Legislature. Many conflicts centered around cattle in Park and Sublette Counties. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)
Wyoming Game and Fish mapped its grizzly bear capture operations around the Yellowstone ecosystem in an annual report required by the Wyoming Legislature. Many conflicts centered around cattle in Park and Sublette Counties. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Forty-seven percent of the events — 24 actual capture events — were in Park County, 31 percent in Sublette County and 14 percent in Fremont County, Game and Fish reported. Hot Springs and Teton counties each had two capture events.

Forty-three percent of the capture events — 22 in all — were the result of bears killing livestock. Most of the killing was of cattle, although sheep, pigs, ducks and chickens were in the mix.

At least six bears were captured for getting into garbage, including three at the Cody landfill. Of the 34 bears that were released, half were let go in Park County and about half in Teton County. One was set free in Fremont County. All the released bears that were older than two years were fitted with radio tracking collars and attempts made at least once every two weeks to find them. Game and Fish said it notified county sheriffs and the media after bears were released as required.

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. HB-12 is an odious bill. Trapping and Snaring of cougars is 1. indiscriminate and would trap females with kittens, as well as kittens 2. these are big traps. How would that work in wolf country? Even the houndsmen association is against this bill. 3. trapping and snares are cruel. WG&F does not allow trapping of large game or trophy animals.

    The disguised motive is to increase the deer herd population. But there is absolutely no correlation between the decline of mule deer in some areas and cougar takes. Disease, habitat loss and fragmentation are the culprits, not cougars.

    Just another bill against predators. Call or email your legislator to vote this down.

    Leslie Patten

  2. Leslie Petersen is spot on about the alignment of the Moose-Wilson Road. It appears that I have out lived the life span of common sense.

    Timothy Mayo

  3. Hey all,

    Sublette County people have been hearing, as Angus points out, G&F biologists by law would not be allowed to manage wolves while they are under federal FWS protections – because the feds are NOT paying the G&F for this work; they do pay USDA Wildlife Services for control. While not a law now, it is certainly “policy” already. While the state and federal wolf people want to and do work together well, we hear the state is unhappy to have G&F work with/for FWS for nothing.

    Just what we hear around here…
    Anyone who feels strongly about ANY proposed legislation should please make their voices heard to their Reps and Sens, state and U.S. both… thnx

    Joy Ufford

  4. Legislating wildlife management is NEVER a good idea for wildlife. It’s always an agenda driven exercise and biology be damned.

    1. I agree. Please tell that to the folks who shop around for Federal judges to provide decisions that further their political agenda, without knowledge of or regard for wildlife management principles.

      Ron Gants

  5. Park pathway. A favorite drive when visiting Teton National Park, Jackson and Wilson. What ever is done, keep it rustic and not just another bus route. Addition of a bike path might be o.k. Limit of autos might be o.k. but do not stop individual travel in own vehicles, nor make it a highway that loses its character. Limit numbers per day or hour if necessary. Roadway is a treasure for all of us, especially senior citizens with limited access to back country.

  6. The federal government pays game and fish personnel for time spent on investigations, so, no, HB-18 is not a cost-cutting measure. WGFD Director Scott Talbott told the legislature this a few weeks ago. Also, federal energy policy is not responsible for the decline of Wyoming’s energy sector; it’s the market.

  7. I am extremely disappointed in our elected officials who voted to leave the Moose Wilson Road road alignment where it is now, squeezed in between the steep hillside with berry trees and wetlands. It is some of the richest wildlife habitat in the Park. Their reason was because road alignment would conflict with an archaeological site. However, the site has been known since 1963. It was not considered a problem in 2007 when the Park’s previous transportation plan supported the road realignment away from the hillside. The State Historic Preservation Office said that the .08 acre area among 12 acres of scattered archaeological material could easily be mitigated. They made this decision without asking for any further analysis of the archaeology!

  8. HB-18 is a sensible cost cutting measure at a time when Wyoming is facing a serious shortfall in revenues going forward due to Federal energy policy.
    The Federal Government has resources adequate to enforce violations of Federal law regarding wolves and grizzlies. If they run short of cash, they can print more money. It’s worked so far. Wyoming doesn’t have that option.

    1. Ron- you really have no clue how wildlife enforcement works on the ground across the State , do you ?

      Larry Hicks’ HB-18 is far from ” a sensible cost cutting measure”. Rather it is wolfish Anti-Federal slap and slam law wrapped in the wool of percieved financial prudence, when it is anything but. It is 100 percent political, not fiscal conservatism or meaningful state budget adjustment. It is crosshaired on grizzlies and wolves out of spite . I suggest you ask your regional Game & Fish supervisors for an off the record opinion of HB-18’s effect on management cross the board. It is disruptive, counterproductive, and disingenuous.

      HB-18 should not be allowed on the floor of the upcoming session , thinly and illegitimately disguised as budget measure.

      1. Wyoming HAD a wolf plan. It was taken to court by folks who had a POLITICAL agenda. The plan was dismissed by a judge somewhere. I’m guessing that judge was trained as a lawyer, not a game management specialist. I’m guessing that the judge had a political agenda. So I think that you are the one being disingenuous.
        The G&F plan for wolves in Wyoming met the needs of this state. There are areas of the state where wolves can live in the wild. In these areas wolves were to be managed as Trophy Game animals. There are areas where, if wolves were allowed to spread, their primary source of prey would be domestic livestock. In those areas wolves would be managed as predators.
        It made sense. Granting wolves protected status around Wheatland makes no sense.
        The Wyoming plan allowed for a viable population of wolves, in the appropriate areas, while minimizing conflicts. That plan was tossed out by people with political motivation.
        I live in the National Forest, and I enjoy seeing and hearing wolves. I enjoy photographing them, and I enjoyed hunting them when I could. I support HB-18. If the Federal government doesn’t like the Wyoming plan, let them pay the costs of management.

        Ron Gants