This map outlines various zones of grizzly bear protections around the center of Yellowstone. Wyoming says a pending grizzly bear hunting agreement among three states will preserve grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

A pending grizzly bear hunting agreement among Wyoming, Idaho and Montana shows the states are dedicated to preserving grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem forever, a Wyoming wildlife official said Tuesday.

Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are drafting an agreement they hope will spur the federal government to allow grizzly bear hunting around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Leaders of the states’ wildlife agencies wrote U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe Dec. 7 saying a proposed agreement would provide necessary “clarity and transparency” as federal Endangered Species Act protections are lifted for the iconic omnivore.

This map accompanying the draft agreement outlines various zones around the center of Yellowstone in which varying degrees of protection would be afforded to grizzly bears. The population would be determined by the number of bears inside the demographic monitoring area. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)
This map accompanying the draft agreement outlines various zones around the center of Yellowstone in which varying degrees of protection would be afforded to grizzly bears. The population would be determined by the number of bears inside the demographic monitoring area. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

The agreement seeks to satisfy federal requests for more rules to protect grizzlies before management is turned over to states and hunting could begin. A cover letter urges the federal government to remove the bear from the threatened species list, saying delays are “needlessly straining relationships vital to responsible grizzly bear management.” Stockmen who graze on Union Pass, for example, have complained of increasing — even record — grizzly bear conflicts.

The pending agreement outlined in a memo “demonstrates a commitment from three states to ensuring a recovered and viable grizzly bear population in perpetuity,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik said Tuesday. “I don’t think anybody could take that [memo] as anything but support for a grizzly bear population in the greater Yellowstone. This framework would probably describe the most conservative framework of anything we manage in the state.”

Wyoming Game and Fish released what spokesman Renny MacKay called “a draft of a draft” of a memorandum of understanding and cover letter after the Associated Press reported about the document Monday. Nesvik said his agency hopes to release the actual draft MOU for public comment, along with other documents, when federal officials finalize a delisting rule and conservation strategy.

State plans must mesh with the federal documents, Nesvik said. Federal wildlife officials have said that some debates about future grizzly management are premature before they propose the delisting rule and conservation plan, which haven’t been released.

The three states would aim for 600 to 747 grizzlies and would halt “discretionary mortalities,” including hunting, when grizzlies numbered fewer than 600. There are an estimated 717 grizzlies in the federal 19,279 square mile “demographic monitoring area,” around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Last September Ashe told the state directors they needed to consider “additional regulatory mechanisms,” before federal protection would be removed. As a result, the draft memorandum includes references to states’ abilities to impose hunting regulations. It also includes a promise not to allow the shooting of females with cubs at their sides.

The MOU would allocate Wyoming the bulk of hunting quotas at 58 percent. Montana would get 34 percent and Idaho 8 percent.

Nesvik said there’s no fear hundreds of bears would be killed. The number available to hunters would be calculated based on a formula that takes into account population estimates, known mortalities, estimated unknown mortalities and other factors, he said.

He wouldn’t speculate on whether there might be dozens of licenses available, or fewer. Wyoming had an opportunity to institute a grizzly hunt a few years ago when the bear was temporarily removed from protection but the state chose not to do so, he said.

Environmental groups kept up a chorus of dissent against hunting what would be classified as a trophy game animal.

States are eager to begin hunting, “despite the fact that the growth rate of the population has been essentially flat since the early 2000s, the population declined at least 6 percent over the past year, and a record number of bears died in 2015,” Sierra Club representative Bonnie Rice said in a statement.

Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, called delisting “a dangerous delegation of power to states where politics routinely trump science, common sense and humane sensibilities when it comes to the status and role of predators.”

Tri-state letter to Ashe:

Draft tri-state grizzly hunting agreement:

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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 or (307)...

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  1. The red line in the graphic above should remain off limits to hunting forever! It is the original recovery zone, and area that biologists and all recover people have said is essential to the assurance of continuity of success of recovery.


  2. There is know reason to hunt these majestic animals actually they have declined about 6 to 8% the last few years, what they need to do is move some of them to north Colorado there is so much space there!They use to roam all throughout until they were extemanated. Now the elk and deer are over populated, and to have a true wilderness and a healthy one you need predators not hunters!

  3. Dewey if I follow your logical conclusion that we should allow grizzlies to recolonize their historic range then I assume that you are willing to give up your house and property to the native American’s to recolonize also. Wake up over 330,000,000,000 million people in the U.S alone. There are limits on where large predators will be able to inhabits and I do not think yours nor anyone else’s back yard is appropriate. How about we exercise a little common sense.

    Larry Hicks

    1. Larry Hicks – you are a Wyoming legislator. From Baggs. A hired gun for livestock interests if ever there was one. So it is difficult for me to respond to that sort of elected representative with civility if you are not willing to examine the full depth , length, and width of issues before you. Your SF133 bill passed into law last session was an abomination for wildlife; specifically mandating that native Big Horn sheep populations be moved or eliminated from the Wyoming Range so you can run a few more domestic ( nonnative) sheep. That is a smoking gun for your anti-wildlife mindset, a gun that fires too often whose smoke obscures the issues. You are no friend to wildlife beyond the regimen of hunting or otherwise killing them. What a shame that in this day and age the Stockgrowers have more clout in the statehouse than they deserve.

      Grizzlies deserve a lot more opportunity than they have gotten to date or will receive if this also abominable delisting and state management plan goes into effect. It is an ecological absurdity to keep all the bears inside a manmade artifical Zoo Zone surrounding Yellowstone Lake, then killing down the ” excess” bears to meet some contrived number deemed by man to be adequate for sustain bears into the far future. This can hardly be called conservation when there are PLENTY of habitat areas in the West that can accomodate bears. ( one of the first places I would restore Grizzlies to is just south of you in Colorado) In fact , the Endangered Species Act requires that we restore bears to suitable areas regardless of political boundaries at the fore . Except nobody is really following the law… science and sustainable management based on what is good and necessary for the Grizzly has been subverted by people—such as yourself—who have demurred to politics and place their own arrogant special interests ahead of wildlife. You should be thankful that it was politics and politics alone that kept the Grizzly from being declared fully endangered back in 1973 instead of just ” threatened”. Grizzly recovery has always been tainted by that .

      In some sectors of legislating here in the Cowboy State we still have a 19th century mindset , long proven to be counterproductive and democratically inhibitory but prevails nevertheless in a gross anachronism. And that is truely tragic.

      The Wyoming Legislature is no friend to wildlife. You are prima facie evidence of that sorry state of affairs here in the 21st century . The plan for managing Grizzly bears is a narrow people plan , not a thoroughly evolved bear plans. Your interests are narrow, the bear’s needs are compelling and not being wisely accomodated

      Dewey Vanderhoff

  4. Why does a hunt always have to be coupled with delisting? If the objection is that we want to acknowledge the success of the ESA, then why not delist but NOT allow hunting, especially with a species like grizzlies that have prolonged reproductive rates, future food source problems, and connectivity issues with NCD bears. There is much work to be done to ensure the future for these bears. Why rush to a hunt? It can be done. We do not hunt Bald Eagles, but they are no longer endangered.

    Leslie Patten

    1. Tim- a recently retired Wyo G&F employee told me that projected Grizzly Bear hunts would be hugely different than other forms of trophy game hunts. What I came away with was G & F would always want the ” problem” or ” conflict” bears taken first , so some ” hunts would be “guided” by G&F wardens… the hunter would be doing what G&F large carnivore wranglers are doing now and have been since Wyoming took over actual grizzly management work many years ago. As far as open hunting of any grizzly of opportunity in the established hunting areas, those hunts would be few in number and very constrained. There might be only a dozen or two licenses issued in any given year in Wyoming , at best.

      Which brings me to your follow the money argument. Anyone who thinks the license fees come close to paying back the costs of Wyo G&F to manage big game hunting is not following the money . Not one single game species covers its own costs to WGFD from hunting tags. All need to be subsidized from an a rray of other sources, with strings attached. FFor instance, Wyoming is spent almost $ 1,800,000 per year directly out of G&F budget to manage bears two years ago ( FY2014 budget line item , pg 253 Annual Report ) , without getting a dime in hunter license revenue. Does Fish and Wildlife help with the costs ? A qualified Yes. Federal grant monies from various conservation funds like Pittman-Robinson actually make up between 16% and 25% of Wyo G&F’s operating budget. In that same 2014 Fiscal Year, federal grants to Wyo GFD dropped 27 percent from $16 million to $ 11 million in a single year. Your Follow The Money question should be amended to read: ” How much will USF&WS continue to contribute towards state management once the grizzly is delisted ? “. Somebody needs to produce the current and future federal—> state game agency grant figures ( with strings attached and explained fully ) so we have a good understanding of the cash flow of grizzly management ( and later Wolves). It is very negative cash flow now, and will likely get much worse when or if Delisting occurs and the state gets handed the sack.

      If Wyoming takes on full grizzly management inside its own borders, there is n way under the Sun presently that the program could come anywhere close to paying for itself , unless you can find a dozen wealthy hunters per year who would be willing to pay $ 125,000 per license and allow themselves to be escorted by game wardens in some cases. Not…gonna … happen.

      The actual table of proposed license fees for grizzly hunts looks more like this : Resident license, $ 500 Non-Resident grizzly tag $ 5,000. Wyoming residents get the preference for the tags.

      Given the state budget climate and a deficit/shortfall today of $ 617 million in Cheyenne just for this fiscal year, I do not believe you and me are going to see a lot of support for the State spending north of $ 2 million per year to manage bears and have only 20 hunting licenses to recoup the investment from.

      Be careful what you ask for Wyoming when it comes to Grizzly ( and Grey Wolf ) Delisting and full state management. And by all means, take a very hard look at the money now before we rush head on into state management Grizzly .

      The proposed Greater Yellowstone Tri-State Delisted Grizzly Management Plans are not worth the paper they are drafted on. The money trail is important , yes. But managing any wildlife strictly by economics is the poorest form of wildlife conservation . Besides being unconscionable it also throws ecology and science over the rail. The Grizzly plan as proposed does not begin to guarantee the Grizzly a future. That’s just rhetorical wishful thinking, or subterfuge. The tri-state plan does not allow the GYE grizzly to grow in numbers and expand back into its former range and domains. The Endangered Species Act would be in violation if this plan is adopted by USF&WS and the State agencies because it bottles up the grizzly population on the Yellowstone island. That is not a sustainable recovery.

      It might be better if the Feds kept the bear a while longer till we can all agree that Grizzlies need to be guaranteed a future and the opportunity to reclaim their former habitats in other states and back up the Continental Divide all the way to a reunion with its relatives in the Yukon. After all, the Grizzly once roamed from Hudson bay to the Pacific Coast and all the way down to near Guadalajara Mexico.

      Dewey Vanderhoff