The discovery of an additional 2017 female grizzly bear death in the Yellowstone ecosystem won’t change Wyoming’s planned grizzly bear hunt this fall, state Game and Fish Department director Scott Talbott wrote in a letter Wednesday.
Conservation groups last week asked the state wildlife agency to amend its fall hunt to exclude the Demographic Monitoring Area — the core of the Yellowstone ecosystem habitat where grizzlies are counted annually to ensure the species persists there. They said the discovery in 2018 of four grizzly bears that died in 2017 — including at least one critical breeding-age female — put the state over an agreed-to mortality threshold and should preclude hunting in the DMA this fall.
But Talbott wrote Wednesday that the state and other grizzly managers had anticipated such late discoveries and would incorporate them into next year’s accounting. The long-term survival of the grizzly bear is not in question, he wrote.
“Your request … is denied,” Talbott wrote Nicholas Arrivo, staff attorney for The Humane Society of the United States, one of six groups that protested the hunt. “[T]he Department is confident that the grizzly bear quotas approved by the [Wyoming Game and Fish] Commission in May of 2018 are consistent with the discretionary mortality limits allotted to Wyoming.”
Those limits were set by the states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in January 2018 as called for in a tri-state memorandum of agreement. “The Department is confident that the long-term viability of the species is not jeopardized by the conservative quotas,” Talbott wrote.
Arrivo said in a statement that the rejection undermines the tri-state agreement to keep grizzly mortalities in check and limit hunting accordingly. “This response proves just how far backwards WGFD is willing to bend to appease trophy hunters,” he wrote.
The Humane Society and others complained last week that the discovery in 2018 of the breeding-age female that died last year put the number of mortalities of female grizzlies in the core monitoring area at 21 — one too many to justify a hunt. Under the tri-state agreement, Wyoming would be allowed to hunt one female had 2017 female mortalities been 20 or fewer. The states met in January to finalize the 2017 mortality counts, settling on 20 breeding-age female mortalities in the DMA as the official tally.
“[A]ny additional 2017 mortality discovered after last January’s meeting will be accounted for in next year’s allocations,” Talbott wrote. The tri-state meeting in January led to hunting allocations that “include an estimate for unknown, unreported mortalities to address the exact situation you describe — latent mortality,” the letter said.
The conservation groups disagree, Arrivo wrote. “Borrowing from next year’s mortality allocation to pay for this year’s intentionally excessive hunting quotas makes a mockery of the inter-state agreements meant to keep human-caused mortality from pushing Yellowstone’s grizzlies back to the brink of extinction,” his statement said.
The debate centers on the 19,270 square-mile Demographic Monitoring area in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. One female and up to 9 male bears could be killed there under Wyoming’s regulations. No hunting is planned in the parks.
Wyoming also authorized a hunt of grizzly bears outside the DMA where as many as a dozen additional bears could be killed. The six groups, including Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Untrapped, WildEarth Guardians and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates last week were protesting only the core-area hunt.