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Wyoming sets next steps for grizzly control

Updated Oct. 11 with tentative meeting schedule at bottom of  story — Ed.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department plans to propose its plans for grizzly bear management — including potential hunting seasons — by April, the state’s chief game warden said Tuesday.

With newfound authority over Ursus arctos horribilis following its removal from the federal threatened species list this summer, Game and Fish will begin canvassing the state in November, to gauge citizens’ sentiments regarding the bear, Brian Nesvik said. Delisting gives Wyoming the ability to enact hunting seasons within federal limits.

Nesvik said the department will approach the public input process “not with any preconceived ideas or a proposal, but just with a kind of open mind.

“We would like to … go out and talk to Wyoming folk and hear what they want to see with grizzly bear management,” he told WyoFile. “Then, after we hear from folks, go to round two where we develop some proposals and take them back out again for some additional feedback.”

The first outreach is scheduled for regional meetings in the second half of November and the first week of December, he said. Proposals — which could include hunting seasons — would emerge for public comment in January.

The goal would be to put a plan in front of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission for its April meeting, during which it typically acts on changes to hunting and other regulations, Nesvik said.

The chief warden said he hopes “science and the desires of the public can come together to do the best thing for the future of the grizzly bear.” But, he cautioned, “some people might be disappointed.”

“There isn’t anything we make decisions on or manage in this state that has an absolute consensus,” Nesvik said.

Federal limits would apply to hunting

As a precondition to delisting the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone ecosystem, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service required Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho to agree on a memorandum of understanding that would limit the total annual human-caused bear mortality —  including from hunting — and split the total number of authorized deaths among the three states. The MOU would allow Wyoming the bulk of the so-called “discretionary” mortality quota, at 58 percent. Montana would get 34 percent and Idaho 8 percent.

Exact numbers would be determined annually, based on grizzly population numbers, sex and age classifications, and other factors.

A Game and Fish Department review of grizzly bear activity in Wyoming in 2016 shows that 22 grizzlies were killed of the 40 captured for conflicts. Those euthanized were killed for “a history of previous conflicts” or “a known history of close association with humans.” Several were killed for being “unsuitable for release into the wild.” Those included orphaned cubs, bears in poor physical condition, or bears that caused worries about human safety. One death was inadvertent.

The bears captured for conflicts with people or property in 2016 tended to be on the fringes of occupied bear country. The red border circles the primary conservation area, the black surrounds the demographic monitoring area. There were 40 conflict captures in 2016, Game and Fish reported. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

There were 223 “conflicts” between grizzlies and people, a category that ranges from attacks by bears — there were four people injured — to eating apples and chickens. Most of the conflicts occurred on the edges of bear country, according to the report of 2016 activity.

Grizzly bear delisting in the Yellowstone ecosystem represents “a huge success story,” said Dan Thompson, the Game and Fish large carnivore section supervisor. With restoration of the species in the ecosystem came “just an overall expansion of bears…the overall distribution of grizzly bears,” he said.

Debate continues regarding whether the expansion of occupied grizzly country is due to more bears or changes in the environment that drives them to seek meat — like livestock — farther from their core habitat. Regardless of the cause, “we’re starting to see potential conflicts with people,” Thompson said.

In fiscal year 2015, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department paid $457,516 for livestock and other property losses from grizzly bears, according to department data. The agency continues to wrestle with depredation by bears and to compensate ranchers for damage. The agency publishes a weekly grizzly bear update for those interested in keeping up.

The department spent an average of $2.06 million on grizzly bear conservation between FY 2012-2016, Thompson said. That includes a host of activities, from capturing to relocating, tracking, counting and so on.

Two lawsuits challenge Yellowstone delisting

Conservation groups sued after Yellowstone-area grizzlies came off the threatened species list this summer. Two complaints focus on the government’s decision to delist the Yellowstone population of bears while other populations remain in peril.

The future of Yellowstone bears themselves is uncertain, the suits contend. That’s in part because of climate change that critics say is driving bears farther from the core of the ecosystem as traditional food sources disappear.

Read a WyoFile story about worries regarding grizzly hunting

One suit pits the Northern Cheyenne tribe, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the National Parks Conservation Association against U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and colleagues. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Native Ecosystems Council, and Western Watersheds Project filed another action.

“The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service acknowledged that grizzly bears have shifted to meat in response to the decline in whitebark pine; that more bears die due to human conflicts during years of poor whitebark pine production; and that human-bear conflict mortality has spiked in recent years,” the Northern Cheyenne and their fellow plaintiffs contend. “But the Service did not address or evaluate the logical conclusion arising from these facts: that is, grizzly bears’ shift to meat has brought bears into more frequent contact with hunters and livestock and, therefore, caused the recent upsurge in mortality.”

Game and Fish illustrates expansion of grizzly range with these maps from 2010 and 2016. Debate continues regarding the reason for bears expanding their territory. Regardless, wildlife officials say chances for conflicts increase, conflicts they seek to diffuse with their Bear Wise Wyoming program. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

The Alliance and its co-plaintiffs made a similar claim. Conservationists have also complained, although not specifically in the lawsuits, that authorities have established boundaries where grizzlies will be tolerated based in part on social tolerance or acceptability. They say that interjects political bias into what’s supposed to be decisions based on science.

Game and Fish seeks to increase social tolerance, and support for grizzly bears in general, through an 11-year-old program called Bear Wise Wyoming, Thompson said. “It’s so vital to management of large carnivores,” he said.

In the parlance of bureaucracy, Game and Fish is “creating a social conscience regarding responsible attractant management and behavior in bear habitat.” Bear Wise seeks to raise awareness, reduce access to things like food and garbage, and educate people about both grizzly and black bears.

Game and Fish brands its Bear Wise Wyoming program with this logo.

Among the efforts undertaken by the program have been the free give-away of hundreds of cans of bear spray to licensed hunters. In Cody last year the effort was supported by Wyoming Outdoorsmen, Bow Hunters of Wyoming and Yellowstone Country Bear Hunters Association, Game and Fish said. One hundred cans of spray were given away in less than an hour.

A similar event in Jackson last month saw a line of some 30 or more hunters waiting before the 8 a.m. give-away began. With the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Game and Fish also has installed more bear-proof food storage boxes in campgrounds.

Game and Fish also seeks to protect those who travel into bear country as part of their job. It put on a workshop last year titled “Working Safely in Bear Country” in Park County that targeted national forest employees, among others.

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Game and Fish admits there is some resistance in sharing ground with grizzlies, including in the Wapiti and Pinedale areas. There, Game and Fish says, efforts are hampered by the lack of ordinances, regulations and laws, by seasonal residents, and by scant community organizations. Another factor is “decreased public tolerance for grizzly bears due to record numbers of human-bear conflicts and continued federal legal protection,” the report for 2016 said.

Game and Fish said it would announce the schedule of the November and December meetings soon.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department on Oct. 11 released the following tentative schedule, saying it includes the following dates and places for meetings:

  • Nov 8: Casper and Laramie
  • Nov 9: Sheridan
  • Nov 15: Jackson
  • Nov 16: Pinedale
  • Nov 29: Green River
  • Nov 30: Cody
  • Dec 4: Lander

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About the Author

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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 [email protected] or (307) 690-5586. Follow Angus on Twitter at @AngusThuermer

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5 Responses to Wyoming sets next steps for grizzly control

  1. Robert Aland October 14, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

    The statement by Brian Nesviik, Wyoming’s chief game officer, that the Wyoming Game & Fish Department will seek public input with regard to post-delisting grizzly bear management “not with any preconceived ideas or proposals, but just with a kind of open mind” is not correct. There is no doubt that grizzly bears will be hunted for fun and profit if delisting survives current litigation challenges, which hopefully will not happen. The only open issue is whether the state will implement the hunting season while the delisting rule is being challenged in litigation or, as it did in 2007, postpone hunting until the litigation ends in order to avoid adversely affecting its litigation position if it is allowed to intervene in the litigation.

    The Memorandum of Agreement Regarding the Management and Allocation of Discretionary Mortality of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem was entered into by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in August 2016 to divvy up trophy hunting of the delisted GYE grizzly bears among the three states. The MOA provides that the states will “maintain a minimum population size of 500 bears” within the huge GYE, but it does not address the fundamental issue of how the population target can be achieved in light of the fact that the states cannot, and will not, know the population size at any point in time and will have to rely on an unverifiable estimate of the population size.

    It is incomprehensible that three states would enter into a morbid and immoral MOA of this type in America today to allocate deaths of the relatively few remaining grizzly bears, icons of American history.

    The MOA is one important indicator that the WGFD’s proposed public process described by Mr. Nesvik is nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to enable the WGFD to say after the process is completed that the public wants trophy hunting of the bears and that the WGFD is doing nothing more than carrying out public sentiment in accordance with the MOA.

    What is the public’s true sentiment with regard to trophy hunting of GYE grizzly bears? The history of public comments with regard to removing the bears’ Endangered Species Act protection provides the answer. Approximately 195,000 comments, a huge number, were filed by the public in response to the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s first delisting proposal in 2005. According to the FWS’s own published statistics, 99.3%, including 90.4% from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, opposed removal of protection. The FWS disregarded that overwhelming sentiment and in 2007 issued a final decision removing the bears’ protection, but that decision was rejected in litigation.

    The FWS, encouraged by Wyoming Governor Mead and others, refused to accept the litigation result and in March 2016 again proposed to remove the GYE grizzly bears’ ESA protection. This time the public submitted over 665,000 comments, an astounding number, but the FWS refused to provide statistical analyses of the 665,000 public comments of the type it prepared with regard to the 2005 public comments and issued its new final delisting rule in June 2017. It is reasonable to assume that the 2016 public sentiment was as overwhelming as it was with regard to the 2005 proposal and that the FWS decided to avoid drawing attention to the 2016 public sentiment by publishing statistics.

    If Mr. Nesvik truly wants an accurate gauge of public sentiment for post-delisting management of GYE grizzly bears, he should accept this history of pro-grizzly bear public comments, which, by sheer size and objectivity, is more accurate than his proposed public input process, which surely will be interpreted to achieve the desired end result. As Mr. Nesvik has already anticipated, “some people might be disappointed.”

    Finally, the statement by Dan Thompson, WGFD’s large carnivore section supervisor, that delisting the GYE grizzly bears is a “huge success story” also is erroneous. The increase of the total number of grizzly bears in the GYE and NCDE and other habitats in the western United States from less than 1,000 when they were given ESA protection in 1975 (reduced from as many as 100,000 by human exploitation) to maybe 1,600-1,700 today, a period over 4 decades, is not a “recovery” for ESA purposes.

    Winnetka, Illinois

  2. Dawn Adams October 8, 2017 at 9:34 am #

    Yellowstone is a little piece of Heaven right here on Earth in Wyoming. I will admit though that the one main reason I go to Yellowstone is to see the Grizzlies. They are a hugh tourist attraction and the revenue they bring in cannot be denied. But once again here you are with your hand on the trigger as you were once before a little over 40 years ago. What a slaughter. What a waste. Now the bears number almost 700 and you want to once again open hunting season. Do you not have enough animals to hunt and kill? Is the thrill so large that you can’t stop yourself? I say leave our grizzlies alone. There is no redeeming quality to be found in killing these magnificent creatures. I don’t care what hunters tell you, most of them do not eat bear meat. So why then? I realize that Wyoming is a big hunting, killing state. But there must be a time when our representatives do not give in to the hunters and stand strong knowing that grizzlies are a big source of tourism and they need to take pride in the fact that they are part of the solution, not the killing. One final note, ranchers would not have a problem if they didn’t allow their livestock to wander free on public land. Public land is not ranch land. Ranchers say their concerns are the financial loss they suffer from predators. I find this hard to believe since they are compensated for cattle lost even though they were on public land. There are solutions. It’s too bad that Wyoming always looks to the gun first when it comes to wildlife. This saddens me. Do you really believe that grizzlies and wolves were really put here for you to kill? Think again.

    Casper, Wyoming

  3. Dewey Vanderhoff October 6, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    My two overarching concerns with State management of former federal Grizzly bears have to do with artifically contrived and controled population numbers inside state boundaries, and paying for state bear work in a time of severe drawdown of state revenues in every sector of the budget.

    Ever since Wyoming started providing the manpower for actual bear wrangling many years ago, we’ve played this ridiculous game of ” Musical Bears” , where a problem bear trapped near Cody is driven around to the other side of the Continental Divide and dumped off somewhere nearer Jackson. G & F only has about 6 places they can tow a trapped bear in a barrel to be dropped off. Eventually bears become repeat offendors and are put down . Too many bears inside a politically contrived management area has resulted in a ridiculous plan to put a ” floor ” on bear population numbers of 500-600 bears, and a ceiling of 750 bears give or take. Somehow this is supposed to guarantee Yellowstone Grizzly specie survival for hundreds of years into the future, which is absurd. How is ” Killdown” really conservation of a species , especially when there are millions of acres of suitable grizzly habitat in other states not currently hosting any bears at all ? A state-only bear management plan still keeps bears in prison behind an artificial zoo fence. Any bear lucky enough to survice the firing lione and gauntler who escapes into Montana or Idaho still has less than a 50 percent chance of being allowed to live , let alone roam further afield.

    What we need to be doing instead is relocating excess bears to newer habitat zones along the Continental Divide all the way to Canada; into deep interior Idaho where 150 Wyoming bears could colonize the largest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48 states easily ; or take bears to places like the Unita Mountains , western and southwestern Colorado , even Utah and New Mexico high country. Instead we play an in-state game of ‘Musical Bears’ and kill too many of them when we run out of options.

    This is the primary reason why State management of grizzlies is wrong biologically and temporally . Only the Feds can move bears across state lines into federal habitat areas. States should be allowed to manage ” problem ” bears insides their own boundary , but any ‘ surplus ‘ bear should be opted out to another new range . If the National Zoo can bring a Panda Bear from interior China to Washington D.C surely we can move a Wyoming grizzly 200 miles into central Idaho or southwest Montana. Keep in mind just because a State is managing bears that they somehow become the ward of that state. Grizzlies belong to all Americans.

    Secondly , I assertively doubt that Wyoming will be able to fund adequate bear management once it’s given full control. We’re already spending $ 2 million per year on bears, but much of that is grant money from US Fish and Wildlife. If the State of Wyoming has to carry the full cost of bear management, it won’t have the necessary funds to assure sustainability of future grizzly populations. it won’t be able to do real specie conservation , just more Killdown and Musical Bears.

    Let’s not delude ourselves into believing that Wyoming really has the Grizzly Bear’s best interest and future survivability at hear. it does not. The science is a sham. Scrape the hide off state management and you’ll find that all Wyoming wants to do is mostly kill bears, and change the Musical Bears dance tune to more of a foxtrot from a brisk waltz..

    Cody, Wyoming

    • Dawn Hatch October 7, 2017 at 7:29 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you 100%.

      San Antonio, Texas

  4. Daryl Hunter October 6, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    Grizzly hunting should never be allowed in the original 5.9 million acre recovery zone. I don’t care if you hunt outside of there or not; however, the “Revenue Bears” of the recovery area are an important asset for the tourism business in our gateway towns.

    I never had any May business for my photo tour company until it became easy to find grizzlies in the past decade. Today I am at capacity in May, my clients fill hotel rooms in this off season. Every eco-tourism business can say the same.

    To bad our governor couldn’t give a damn about the tourism business since his heritage is cattle ranching and hunting outfitting. Who gives a damn about hotel owners and restaurants of Jackson and Cody when the ranchers of Gillette and Cheyenne hate predators.

    The above statement comes from a supporter of public land ranching, I wish public land ranchers could also support my business.

    Irwin, Idaho

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