Hunters could kill up to 24 grizzly bears this year under Wyoming hunting regulations proposed today, but only half that quota could be taken inside the bear’s core range known as the Demographic Monitoring Area.
The proposed regulations and seasons set two quotas — one for inside the 19,270 square-mile Demographic Monitoring Area, and another outside the DMA where grizzly numbers don’t contribute to the official population count. The regulations would permit 2 females and 10 males to be killed inside the monitoring area and 12 grizzlies of any sex outside, during a two month fall season, according to regulations being circulated for public comment.
No hunting is proposed in Grand Teton or Yellowstone national parks although there is an ongoing disagreement between Wyoming and conservationists whether that prohibition applies to private inholdings. Licenses would cost $600 for residents, $6,000 for out-of-staters.
The Demographic Monitoring Area population is calculated annually to ensure numbers stay above 500 —the ecosystem goal is 674— per an agreement between Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and the federal government.
The proposed seasons should ensure that grizzly bears persist in healthy numbers in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, Wyoming’s Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik said in an interview.
“Those mortality limits are calculated not to allow for a decline,” he said of the population. “The [hunting] numbers are so low I don’t think you can see any change in the grizzly bear population because of this hunting season in the Demographic Monitoring Area.”
But Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, disagreed strongly with the proposal.
“Wyoming’s reckless hunt ignores the fact that grizzly bears remain endangered in Yellowstone and across the West,” she said in a statement. “It’s tragic that these imperiled animals will be shot and killed so trophy hunters can stick heads on their walls.”
Two hunters at a time
Wyoming would allow only two hunters in the field at a time in the DMA to ensure the quota of female grizzlies is not exceeded. Outside the DMA, Game and Fish also will select hunters through a lottery draw. The season inside the DMA — which is divided into six hunt areas, each with its own quota of between one and three bears — is proposed to run from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15. Outside of the DMA the season would run from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15
The proposed regulations and seasons also include a buffer zone east of Grand Teton National Park that could help protect famous and roadside bears that draw thousands of tourists annually. No hunting would be allowed in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway between Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, Nesvik said, nor would hunting be allowed within a quarter mile of major highways.
Other major provisions include closing the entire DMA season after two female grizzlies are killed and not opening the season near moth-rich talus slopes when grizzlies usually congregate there.
Hunters who draw a license for the DMA would be required to take an orientation and training course and would have to report a kill within 24 hours. In what may be a worldwide first, hunters in the DMA will carry a satellite-linked texting device — like a SPOT emergency transmitter — to report a kill immediately.
The devices, which will likely play a larger role in future seasons, would allow Game and Fish to release another hunter into the field as soon as an active hunter kills a grizzly, provided the quota of two females would not be in jeopardy.
Nesvik explained the complexity of hunting a species whose sex is difficult to identify in the field and where there is a strict limit on the killing of females.
“Because it’s difficult to distinguish [sex], people will have a grizzly bear license valid for either sex,” he said. “If two females are harvested, we‘ll be done — no more hunters will be allowed to go.”
Once a single female is killed in the DMA, only one hunter would be in the field at a time. “It’s as tightly regulated as it could be,” he said of the two-female limit in the Demographic Monitoring Area.
“That’s as close to a 100 percent guarantee we won’t go over the female quota” as it is possible to get, he said.
The use of the satellite-linked texting device may be pioneering. “We don’t believe it’s ever been done,” he said. “We hope it’s going to help us with timely reporting.”
Hunters would not be allowed to kill a bear with dependent young or dependent cubs themselves either inside or outside the DMA. Traps, snares and hunting dogs would be prohibited.
Hunting outside the core area should not affect the official population estimate, Nesvik said. “We don’t feel … harvesting up to 10 or 12 [outside] will have an effect inside the DMA,” he said.
“Most of the mortality among grizzly bears in recent years has occurred outside the DMA and has not caused decline inside the DMA,” he said. The most recent year was an outlier, he said.
Outside the DMA, “we don’t necessarily want to encourage grizzly bear expansion or even occupancy,” Nesvik said. “There’s private land … places where they are in conflict.” Baiting could be authorized outside the DMA to prevent depredations and conflicts with humans.
Buffer for Grand Teton bears
The buffer zone east of Grand Teton “is to ensure providing more protection to those highly visible bears,” Nesvik said. Nevertheless, “there’s no way, when you have a managed population, that you can pick out a specific bear and protect it wherever it goes.”
The buffer restriction and the prohibition of hunting grizzlies in the Rockefeller Parkway are not being implemented for biological reasons, he said, but in response to public input.
High in the wilderness, grizzlies gather in large numbers on talus slopes to mine the rocks for army cutworm moths. Generally, hunters shouldn’t be there when the bears are because of the timing of the hunting seasons.
“The seasons are going to be timed in such a way bears will not be on moth sites when hunting starts — for the most part,” Nesvik said. “The bears and moths will be largely gone when the season opens. There’s not a good way to predict every year on Sept. 1 the moths will leave the moth sites.”
Grizzly hunters, unlike big game hunters, would not be required to retrieve the meat from their kills. Nesvik said Wyoming residents generally reject the notion that trophy hunting is unacceptable.
“Our job is to use science to manage large carnivore species and to manage for an opportunity that exists,” he said. “This is not different from the current management of lions, wolves, black bears [where you’re] not required to consume the meat.
“To this point, people believe it is ethical to hunt large carnivore species in the state and not have to retrieve the meat.”
“Wyoming is going to take a cautious, conservative approach to this,” Nesvik said of the hunting season. “While we recognize there’s an opportunity out there, there’s not a rush to immediately go out and maximize all opportunities.
“We need to have a couple of years of this because it’s new,” Nesvik said. “The public needs to feel comfortable that the department’s going to take an approach that’s conservative.”
This story was updated to include the cost of licenses — Ed.