Gov. Mark Gordon asked the federal government Monday to remove its protection of Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears, an act that could see hunting of grizzlies in Wyoming outside national parks.

The petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to declare Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies as distinct from three other existing populations in the country and neither threatened nor endangered. The petition asks the federal wildlife agency to remove the Yellowstone Ecosystem population from the list of threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The 27-page petition asserts that grizzlies in the ecosystem have recovered from their perilously low numbers and that Wyoming has resolved legal questions that have prevented delisting. On the legal front, the state has committed to ensuring genetic viability of the isolated population by transplanting outside bears into the Yellowstone area.

“They remain in only four isolated populations occupying just 6% of their historic range.”

Andrea Zaccardi, Center for Biological Diversity

Wyoming also has committed to recalibrate minimum population goals under a new counting method that boosted ecosystem population estimates from slightly more than 700 bears to more than 1,000.

“There is no biological or legal reason to keep [Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem] grizzly listed,” a statement issued by the governor’s office reads. “The states have applied the best-available population models, and the most current data shows grizzly bear populations have grown beyond the edges of the bear’s biological and socially suitable range.”

Who said what

“This is an extraordinary and monumental success story for species recovery and should be celebrated,” Gordon said in a statement. “The GYE grizzly bear is ready to join the ranks of the bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon and brown pelican as receiving proper recognition as a thriving, recovered and stable species.”

Not so fast, said Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We do not believe grizzly bears are fully recovered,” she said. “They remain in only four isolated populations occupying just 6% of their historic range.

“Wyoming is likely to move forward with aggressive trophy hunts,” if grizzlies are delisted, she said. “There’s no science that supports the need for trophy hunting of grizzly bears,” she continued, and states have not shown they can manage predators based on science, rather than politics.

The state’s petition states that “naysayers could not be more wrong.” Wyoming has contributed to grizzly recovery as bear numbers increased from 136 in 1975 to more than 1,000 today, the petition states.

“The question of hunting is a separate one from this particular petition,” Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Tuesday. “The last time Game and Fish contemplated grizzly hunting it was based on science and our track record with gray wolves and mountain lions, which we managed very successfully with hunting.

“This petition reflects some commitments, bold commitments the state is making in response to the recent circuit court decision,” he said. “I don’t think there are any stones unturned.”

Why it matters

Grizzly bears are enormous draws to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks where visitors yearn to see them amble, root around or chase prey. Grizzly advocates say celebrity bears, such as world-famous 399 and her family of four in Grand Teton, are ambassadors that teach people about the environment, conservation and more.

Some fear hunting could upset that dynamic, possibly even resulting in the killing of famous bears. The last hunting season proposed by Wyoming, which a court blocked, included a no-hunt buffer around Grand Teton.

Grizzlies also are blamed for conflicts with ranchers and stock growers, preying on numerous, sometimes dozens, of their cattle or sheep annually. Wyoming Game and Fish compensates for losses to grizzlies, sometimes paying the owner up to three times the value of a confirmed, grizzly-killed animal.

The Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly population is isolated from other populations. That makes natural genetic interchange a challenge that critics say could be insurmountable with hunting pressure.

History

After placing the species on the list of wildlife threatened with extinction in all or part of its range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department have seen numbers increase steadily. Wyoming has invested more than $52 million in grizzly management, Gordon said.

A new agreement with Idaho and Montana sets out how the three states will manage the ecosystem population in their jurisdictions. That agreement includes how “discretionary mortalities” like hunting would be distributed among the three states.

The government sought to remove federal protection of Yellowstone grizzlies but court challenges stymied that effort, most recently in 2017. In that decision, a federal court said the questions about genetic diversity and minimum population recalibration were unanswered.

Wyoming believes it has now resolved those issues. Nesvik said he hopes to receive a response from federal wildlife officials within 90 days and a final decision within a year of that.

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. Even if there are 1000 grizzlies as they claim, how is that a recovered population. We have seen what happened with the blood lust after wolves were delisted. States cannot be trusted. Period.

    1. The grizzly bear population for the GYE and the designated habitat for those bears has been firmly set by the various recovery plans and EISs. The goal was for approximately 700 bears in the GYE including Yellowstone NP, the Shoshone NF and its wilderness areas and the Bridger Teton NF and its wildnerness areas. No suitable habitat was identified on private land or BLM land – the bears have now surpassed their population goals and have occupied more than 28% more land than set by the recovery plans. The current situation/problem is that the GYE grizzly bear recovery project has been wildly successful and greatly exceeds the original goals. Their was never any intent for the bears to move out onto private land which is the current situation. They can be trapped and relocated to other recovery areas – I have suggested the high Sierras. By trapping and relocating, no bears would be shot. The Wyoming BLM is currently relocating about 3,000 wild horses to wonderful homes on ranches in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota where the BLM pays the ranchers to pasture the horses for the rest of their lives – no horses are shot or slaughtered. So back to the question of what to do with 200-400 extra grizzly bears??? My suggestion is to relocate them to other states including New York which has significant public lands. However, the bears do need to be relocated to public land only and avoid private land. If relocation can’t be utilized, the bears will have to be hunted in Wyoming in order to reduce their numbers. The problem in Wyoming is that grizzly bear recovery has been WILDLY SUCCESSFUL – and we have too many bears – would someone please help us out and offer to accept our excess bears – please!!! We worked out a solution for wild horses – now lets find nice homes for our extra bears. By the way, Ted Turner will be taking in 900 wild horses on the double U ranch he just purchased near Fort Pierre, SD – they were excess horses who have found a new home – and, birth control is being utilized on wild horses. Any ideas on how to administer birth control to grizzly bears??? WE HAVE TOO MANY GRIZZLIES IN WYOMING.

  2. Sacrificing an occasional predator to protect food security or a herd or flock of domesticated livestock, makes a certain amount of practical and ethical sense. But shooting one of those magnificent creatures so its head can be over a fireplace, or its pelt on the flood beneath it ……. ?

  3. It is a bad idea to let the State of Wyoming manage anything; much less bears or wolves. Their idea of good management is to log it, burn it, pave it and sell it to developers. Methane wells abound that have not been reclaimed. Sage Grouse verge on the edge of extinction, the big game herds state wide have cases of mad cow disease, moose, elk, mulies, antelope, mountain sheep and goats have all been decimated by the state’s management and Magagna’s quest for sheep grazing at the expense of any grazing animals that persist. No Grizzly mgt. by the state, wolves neither. I am a hunter but enjoy seeing bears and wolves outside of a rifle scope more. BS

    1. Bill: With respect to wolf and grizzly bear recovery plans, the only wolf recovery plan that’s working – that is managing wolves to the goals firmly set in the EISs and recovery plans, is the wolf wolf management plan currently under administration by the State of Wyoming. Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin have very serious problems since the wolf populations in those states greatly exceeded the population goal. And, Wyoming has spent millions of dollars on wolf management almost fully paid for by sales of hunting licenses. Somewhere, there has to be a source of funding to manage wolves and grizzlies bears and these expenses are ongoing and will never end. Lots of people have differing opinions about these species, but as Harry Truman said ” THE BUCK STOP HERE” which in this situation is Wyoming. With the wild horses on the other hand, the Federal government is paying the very substantial costs of relocating and feeding the horses. Its easy for out of staters and even Wyoming residents to criticize our wolf and grizzly bear management but it is effective under state management – and it is administered as agreed to in the publicly adopted recovery plans – Wyoming strives to manage as formally agreed upon.

  4. Lo and behold!! The Center for Biological diversity DID file a petition with the USFWS on June 18, 2014 asking for expansion of the grizzly bear recovery areas, currently 6 areas, to other areas including the Sierras of California. Please Google ” California grizzly bear petition to list ” for further information. Now is the time to switch the emphasis from GYE grizzlies bears to other areas, like the Sierras, and petition the USFWS to designate new distinct population segments and reintroduction areas in other states. The CBD shouldn’t be concerned with our successful grizzly bear reintroduction program in Wyoming – they need to start looking elsewhere for new reintroduction areas and the high Sierras are the leading candidate. WE ARE RECOVERED.

  5. Of course the Center for Biological Diversity claims they only occupy 6% of their former range – they forget to mention that their designated habitat established by recovery plans and EIS is completely full in the YES and expanding well out on to private land and BLM land where they were never intended to be. They have thrived in the wilderness areas, Yellowstone and the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forests. Wyoming has more than met our obligation to facilitate the recovery of the great bears. Its time for the other states like Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, New York, and especially California, and did I mention California to commit to grizzly bear recovery in their states. We’ve done out part – that’s the bottom line.
    The headlines from Idaho, Montana and Wisconsin about reducing wolf populations make in abundantly clear that the “local” people do not want he wolf population expanding uncontrolled – their legislatures and Governors have supported culling of excess wolves imposed on them by out-of-state interests. Same with grizzlies, if you love grizzlies so much, advocate for reintroduction into your back yard not ours, and by the way, we have plenty of excess bears you can have to get your reintroduction started in California – how can you be the grizzly bear state ( flag ) without any grizzles??? Its your time to perform.