Wyoming Game and Fish Department works with landowners who have conflicts with grizzly bears. Social tolerance of grizzlies is one parameter used to determine where they will persist after federal protections are lifted. But some wonder whether that social factor is an appropriate yardstick and who gets to define it. (Wyoming Game and Fish)

JACKSON — To illustrate the potential magnitude of a state grizzly bear hunt, Wyoming Game and Fish department calculated hunters could have legally shot up to six male and four female bears during a hypothetical season in 2017.

Agency officials presented those figures in Jackson last week, part of an eight-town tour to collect residents’ input on grizzly bear management. While the meetings are designed to gather public sentiment and ideas on everything from research to conflict resolution, the prospect of a hunting season is paramount in the minds of conservationists, hunters, stockmen and others.

“That’s why a lot of you people are here, I imagine,” Dan Thompson, the agency’s large carnivore section supervisor, told a crowd of 80 persons at the Jackson meeting.

The department will consider public comments from the listening tour, which ends Dec. 4 in Lander, then possibly present a hunting proposal for public comment early next year. Any plan is expected to be prepared in time for the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s April meeting, the scheduled time the commission votes to set hunting seasons for the year.

Until this week, agency officials have declined to speculate what the scoping meetings might produce, what the department might recommend and how the commission might vote. Last Wednesday, however, Jackson regional wildlife supervisor Brad Hovinga broke that silence.

Asked whether he thought the state would allow a hunt, he said there is a “high probability the department’s going to go that way — at some point.”

Federal sideboards remain to ensure 500 bears

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone ecosystem grizzlies from the list of threatened species earlier this year, turning over management to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Grizzlies have been protected almost continuously since 1975, when there were fewer than 140 in the ecosystem.

Since then the population has grown and spread beyond the 19,279 square-mile Demographic Monitoring Area in which the official population is estimated annually. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana must maintain at least 500 grizzlies in the DMA to keep the species off federal protection lists. The goal is for a population of around 674, the average between 2002 and 2014.

In addition to a Wyoming quota, Idaho and Montana could institute hunts in their portion of the ecosystem. Hunt quotas there would be much lower than in Wyoming because they contain correspondingly less grizzly habitat. Wyoming has 58 percent of the ecosystem habitat and therefore is entitled to that portion of huntable bears.

Yellowstone-area grizzlies would be managed according to where they live in various zones around two national parks. Outside the Demographic Monitoring Area, Wyoming would have little tolerance for grizzlies that conflict with human activities. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Game and Fish estimated a current DMA population of 695 grizzlies in producing its hypothetical hunt numbers for this year. A hunt of females would be limited to “independent” bears traveling without cubs, according to an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition to the population minimums, females with cubs must be well-distributed across the DMA and total mortalities — deaths from all causes including hunting, vehicle collisions and agency culling of problem bears — must not exceed certain parameters. Bears outside the monitoring area are not counted in the annual population estimates and it is uncertain how they might figure into a hunting season and agency quotas. Females traveling with cubs would be protected there.

At the Jackson meeting, sentiments ranged from pro- to anti-hunting, including strong feelings in this tourism-oriented town that the state should recognize the economic value of grizzlies to wildlife viewers and visitors from around the world.

Asked if he favored hunting, one attendee stated “absolutely.” Regarding the prospect of hunting, another said “it shocks me.”

Never miss a story — sign up for WyoFile’s free weekly newsletter

Officials told attendees any hunt season would be “based on science,” and the population would persist. If the public overwhelmingly said it did not want a hunting season, “there would not be a hunting proposal,” Cody regional supervisor Dan Smith told WyoFile. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” he said.

Among the ideas proposed were a prohibition on hunting in the 24,000-acre John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Grizzlies should not be hunted on some high-elevation talus slopes where they gather seasonally in groups to forage for army cutworm moths, an attendee said.

Other proposals called for mandatory education of hunters and for hunts to focus on bears known to have a history of conflicts with people, their property and livestock. Game and Fish, which would charge $600 for a resident grizzly license and $6,000 for a non-resident one, should seek revenue sources other than hunting licenses, one attendee said.

Game and Fish also gathered ideas about population monitoring, research, conflict management, outreach and education.

No hunting in Jackson Hole?

The department spent an average of $2.06 million on grizzly bear conservation between FY 2012-2016, officials told WyoFile. In fiscal year 2015, the agency paid $457,516 for livestock and other property losses from grizzly bears, according to department data.

The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and the group Wyoming Wildlife Advocates have challenged Game and Fish over a potential hunt of grizzlies, listed as “trophy” game by the agency. Wildlife is a top draw for visitors in Teton County’s tourism-driven economy, the chamber said in an April letter to Game and Fish. Consequently, hunt areas and quotas should “explicitly account for the economic value that bears represent for tourism and businesses in Wyoming.”

Two grizzly bears rummage for army cutworm moths in a high-altitude talus field where animals gather seasonally in larger-than-usual numbers. Some residents have asked Game and Fish to protect grizzlies from hunters in such high-value food areas (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

This could include “significantly reduced or no trophy hunting in and around Jackson Hole,” the letter said. Also, Wyoming should not immediately institute a hunt, then chamber president Jeff Golightly and chairwoman Julie Faupel wrote.

Visitors would pay an extra $41 to see a bear, according to a study in Yellowstone. Authors said the figure might have been higher if they had included a figure more than $50 for the hypothetical guarantee.

Tourism generated $1.02 billion in Teton County in 2016, including $54 million in state and local taxes, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates said. “There is no economic justification for hunting grizzlies in Teton County,” the group said in a flyer it distributed at last week’s meeting. “There is no scientific justification for hunting grizzlies in Teton County; There is no cultural justification for hunting grizzlies in Teton County.”

Grizzly supporters have filed at least six suits challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove the Yellowstone grizzly from the threatened species list. Those include action by the Humane Society of the United States and Fund for Animals; WildEarth Guardians; Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association; the Crow Indian Tribe et al.; the Alliance for Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council and Western Watersheds Project; and Jackson Hole and Illinois resident and attorney Robert Aland.

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)...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. In a recent JHNG article a WGFD biologist name Ally is quoted as stating she would like more elk killed on private land for the elk reduction. The elk reduction which is counter to the 2007 ROD, Bison and Elk Management Plan requires in the Operating Management Directives that the WGFD shall manage the hunts for 11,000 elk in the Jackson Herd. They can only manage for 5,000 on the National Elk Refuge if the remaining 6,000 elk can winter in other areas. All of this was scoped and made law prior to the wolves taking hold here. Now the elk do not winter up the Gros Ventre and are forced to the refuge. Many believe because of wolves. However, climate change is key. Last winter was the hardest in decades many ungulates died of starvation throughout this region. Hence there National Elk Refuge should have been their refuge but instead 20% of the calves died. They feed too little too late and it is survival of the fittest. Still the mantra of WGFD is we manage for 5,000 elk on the refuge so kill the elk on private land which is adjacent to homes and neighborhoods. Two weeks ago WGFD told a local resident of land adjacent to one of the private property hunting fields that the rancher had staked out a dead cow for bait to attract predators and WGFD said specifically, wolves, coyotes and cougar. In the same conversation that WGFD game warden told the resident that the rancher had see a grizzly sow with a cub at the site. This is not wildlife management to protect the grizzly bear nor the local residents who now must hike their land with bear spray and fear the bullets flying in their direction. Thank you WGFD you are doing a stellar job of managing our wildlife in the Public Trust. I trust you to ignore the law and to change the rules of the road with regularity. You shall not manage the grizzly bear for long while you promote hunting on private land adjacent to subdivisions and allow the ranchers to bait wolves, and all predators with dead cattle. OMG. And I am told that within the last three weeks 399 and her cubs had moved from the Kelly road hunt to the refuge. Are hunters required to carry and know how to use bear spray on the NER. The NER which allegedly manages for wildlife first and requires photographers to stay away from the fence to not disturb the wildlife. What does a youth hunt into December do to protect the wildlife if the youth are not taught to use bear spray? How long does that delay the hibernation of 399 her cubs and other grizzly bear, as we pray she makes it. It is all a an abominable fright for anyone who lives here and visits here to share this landscape with the Grizzly Bear.

  2. Hunting is conservation. In 1907 it is estimated 47,000 elk remained in North America. Hunting funded conservation has increased the herd to over a million. Thankfully grizzly numbers have went from 140 in 1975 to over 600 today. This growth rate is unsustainable in the current range, especially if elk refuges are eliminated, climate change impacts white bark pines, and wolves continue to increase. To allow population control hunting will be required. Humans respecting bears and bears respecting humans is fostered by well regulated hunting based on science.

    1. “Hunt(er) funded conservation” is the heart of the equation. For at least the last 30 years wildlife managers have been trying to develop alternative funding, but so far, at least in Wyoming, only hunters have been willing to step up to the plate. Non consumptive users would have a lot more skin in the game if they too were willing to help pay the bills.

  3. A dead bear meets the need of one human. A live bear meets the needs of thousands of humans. There is more PROFIT in a live bear, should satisfy the most conservative right winger.

  4. Is hard to say at this point something different than what had being said by all the previous comments. Yet, yes,Grizzlies should be saved and stay that way. Ranchers probably should considering to protect better their cattle. No more open ranch. And they should have and train more dogs to keep bears and wolves and other predators away. But let me add this: I live in Salt Lake City and the main reasons makes me drive almost every year to Yellowstone/Grand Teton N.P. are not the moose, elk (I have them here at my backyard) or bison but the bears and wolves of that region. Period.

  5. Matt Mead doesn’t want a diversified economy that would include looking at a predator and not shooting it. Ranchers and farmers are hard wired like that, I get it; however, since Mead is Governor he should rise above the hate for predators that was taught to him from the time he first stood up and cleared his fathers cowboy boot.

    I am a conservative a bit to the right of Ted Cruze, as a fiscal conservative I see the fiscal value of Grizzlies as a tourism revenue because I’m in the business.

    Historically we have had very little tourism in May however May is my busiest month because that is the easiest time to see grizzly bears. My guests stay in the, likely otherwise empty, hotels of Jackson, West Yellowstone and Cody. I consider grizzlies = Revenue Bears.

    When the shooting starts even if our revenue bears of northern Grand Teton Park and the North Fork of the Shoshone River west of Cody, even if not harvested will become invisible as is our numerous black bears outside of the park. We will no longer be innocuous gawkers to them, we will be predators and the previously, seemingly oblivious will go into hiding.

  6. I was unable to attend the meeting in Jackson, but Wyoming Game and fiah does not have clear and present thinking. We have a lot to learn from Katmai Alaska where 2200 bears roam free with humans without being killed for human interaction or hunting. Alaska has better bear management practices in general than this, and pro-active bear conflict education for all back country users. Our approach is disappointing and seems archaic and mis-informed. We already loose 50+ bears per year to cars hitting them, hunters shooting them not knowing what they are shooting, bears put down for going thru trash and other human interactions, but what do we do to correct this, educate, or be proactive? Nothing. We have not changed anything along the roadways, we do not require better hunter education, better bear spray education, require bear proof trash cans in Teton County, and litter laws, the visitor center continues to direct people to the Moose Wilson road in late summer to watch bears eat berries and then the bears get put down because they become accustom to humans. We are archaic! We are so behind as a society living in bear and wildlife country. Mis-directed by placing hunting income at a higher need, than a life of a bear, likely with direction paid for by the Safari Club and others.The real story is what is driving this politically, because otherwise anyone can see this does not make sense, and that we have a lot of work to do as a rural population, and besides-the bear numbers are only arbitrary. They fluctuate and are made to work to their benefit, not the bears. A form of American Greed not conservation. Unbelievable disappointing mismanagement by our state.

  7. This goes against what the majority of Jackson residents want…We are willing to co-exist with bears and all wildlife that come into our paths…..DON’T ALLOW hunting grizzlies to take place. More people come to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone to see bears in the wild….Our economy depends on wildlife watchers more than hunters. Think about it….

  8. Try living alongside your bear neighbors. If you don’t know how to do that by NOW then you probably should move. But killing your wildlife for entertainment is disgusting and inhumane. There is absolutely
    no reason you should take up hunting these iconic animals who are just living on their lands the way
    nature intended, not the way you planned it, but that’s just too darn bad. Show some respect for your
    neighbors instead of destroying them for no reason.

  9. Better alive than dead. With Gov. Mead and State of Wyoming trying to diversify the economy an extra billion or two would help.