Wyoming Game and Fish Department released a draft grizzly bear conservation plan Tuesday that could result in a proposal to hunt bears as early as the fall of 2017.
State officials have not indicated whether they would propose or endorse a hunt. The potential 2017 season assumes that no lawsuits hold up the process of removing federal protections for Yellowstone-area grizzlies, Wyoming’s chief game warden Brian Nesvik said.
Wyoming must adopt a conservation plan before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would remove the Yellowstone grizzly from the list of threatened species, he said. The state’s draft conservation plan, some 40 pages long, ensures grizzlies will persist in Wyoming, Nesvik said.
“Wyoming is ready to manage grizzly bears in our state,” he said. “We are committed to managing for a healthy population. This regulation would talk about things like reporting requirements — if there were a hunting season, what would [hunters] be required to report and when. It would get into specifics on dealing with livestock depredation.
“This regulation will not set a hunting season per se,” he said. “It will have some [hunting-season] components to it that will discuss and provide guidance on what the commission will consider if they do have a season.”
Among other items, the draft conservation plan suggests Wyoming would restrict hunting near national parks but allow more killings farther from the core population.
“The State will apply more conservative management policies within portions of the [Primary Conservation Area] outside the national parks,” the draft says. “Management flexibility will be greater outside the PCA boundary,” the draft says.
The Primary Conservation Area is central habitat around the two national parks. A larger 20,000 square-mile Demographic Monitoring Area surrounds the primary zone. The official ecosystem population estimate is made in the larger DMA and that count is key in determining whether the species is healthy or needs federal protection.
Little tolerance for grizzlies outside census area
The state doesn’t want grizzlies living outside the Demographic Monitoring Area if they might disrupt other activities. Outside the DMA where conflict potential is high, Wyoming will “discourage occupancy by grizzly bears” and may use public hunting to do so, the plan states.
Also, “female grizzly bears with dependent young (cubs of the year, yearlings, 2-year olds) and dependent young will be protected from hunter harvest,” the draft says. The conservation plan looks to use hunters to shoot grizzlies that might be attacking and eating livestock.
“Public take may also be directed, when appropriate, to areas with high frequencies of human-grizzly bear conflicts,” the draft plan states. “If implemented, this strategy will focus on the use of hunter harvests to replace some of the mortality that might otherwise result from agency take in conflict situations.”
The plan is not just about the potential killing of grizzlies. Game and Fish would advocate for the maintenance of roadless areas where they exist in occupied grizzly habitat, the draft says.
Wyoming won’t stand by and let grizzly bears threaten residents.
“Lethal control may be employed when other options are not practical or feasible, in particular when bears become food-conditioned, human-habituated, or aggressive toward humans,” the draft says. “Grizzly bears displaying these behaviors are a public safety threat and often continue to be involved in property damage incidents.”
Grizzly hunting will not be a net positive revenue generator for Wyoming the draft says. “Costs associated with data collection and conflict management will vastly exceed any revenue generated by the grizzly bear program.”
Game and Fish will soon seek comments on the draft conservation plan, Nesvik said. A schedule of meetings is posted on the agency website.
“We’re going to do a bunch of meetings here in about two to three weeks,” he said. “[We’ll] go to the [Wyoming Game and Fish Commission] in about mid-May with recommendations on this plan.”
The draft conservation plan is designed to meet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s requirements. The federal agency requires that Wyoming adopt certain “regulatory mechanisms,” Nesvik said, that ensure grizzlies don’t again slip toward extinction in the Yellowstone region.
Should delisting proceed on schedule, Wyoming Game and Fish Department could return to the commission — an appointed body that oversees the agency — at about this time next year to talk about hunting.
“There is going to be a discussion about it — that would occur about this time a year from now,” he said. Hunting could begin in the fall of 2017 “if the commission decides that’s their desire.”