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.
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.