Jackson Hole, WY News

Wyatt Agar

Wyatt Agar

Wyoming politicians are shrugging off the rule of law by advancing legislation that calls for wildlife managers to come up with rules for hunting the state’s federally protected grizzly bears.

Grizzly bears, which number around 700 in the tristate Yellowstone ecosystem, are once again classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and, thus, illegal to hunt. That fact did not deter the Wyoming Senate on Wednesday from passing a first reading of SF93, a bill that authorizes the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to promulgate rules for hunting grizzlies.

The grizzly hunting bill’s language is permissive — filled with “mays,” not “shalls” — an important distinction for Game and Fish officials who probably aren’t keen on serving prison time, Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Fremont, told fellow senators.

“The reason we don’t say shall is because we can’t ask our Game and Fish people to be convicted felons,” Bebout said. “That’s what it would do if we did that.”

Wyoming was hours away from hunting its grizzlies for the first time in 44 years this past fall when U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen granted a restraining order blocking a hunt. Weeks later, he issued an opinion siding with environmental groups and Native American tribes, revoking the state’s jurisdiction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and states involved are appealing.

Several senators who addressed the floor Wednesday were clearly irked by the judicial intervention.

“It’s really hard to believe that a federal judge in Montana is telling Wyoming what to do with its hunting licenses on Wyoming land,” said Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Campbell. “The best part of this bill is that if we happen to win that [appeal] lawsuit in San Francisco, it means that immediately our agency can move forward on a hunt. I have many people in my district that are willing to do that, and they’re so excited.”

One other piece of grizzly legislation is still alive in Wyoming’s 2019 legislative session. House Joint Resolution 01 asks the federal government to once again delist grizzlies as soon as possible.

Another bill that was voted down in committee Wednesday would have created a fund that would help people pay medical bills incurred by grizzly bear maulings. The sponsor of that legislation, Rep. Mike Greear, R-Bighorn/Washakie, told the Jackson Hole Daily last week that he would oppose the grizzly hunting bill, given the species’ legal status.

“That’s kind of pissing in the wind,” Greear said.

The Wyoming Legislative Service Office had not posted the roll call from the Wednesday vote by press time, but the motion was met with a roar of ayes and just a few nays — and a playful growl.

The grizzly hunting bill drew jeers from one hunting advocacy group that’s been actively lobbying in Cheyenne this session.

“I don’t think it’s a good bill,” Wyoming Wildlife Federation Executive Director Dwayne Meadows said, who advocated letting the current appeals process play out.

Seasoned grizzly activist Louisa Willcox said that defiant grizzly legislation like SF93 does no favors for conservation.

“Bills that call for a hunt regardless of listing are distracting and destructive,” Willcox said. “It’s not helpful.”

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s wildlife program coordinator, Chris Colligan, also scolded lawmakers.

“The idea that the Legislature is endorsing illegal activity under the Endangered Species Act is really deeply concerning,” Colligan said. “If their goal is to expedite management, this doesn’t help.”

But some senators who addressed the floor Wednesday said they perceive the grizzly population as having grown out of control, and the situation as urgent. Sen. Ogden Driskoll, R-Crook/Campbell/Weston, said it’s “absolutely critical” the Legislature send the message that Wyoming wants to manage its game.

“This story’s getting nothing but worse until we get after it,” Driskoll said.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067, env@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGenviro.

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(10) comments

Tony Rutherford

Last year's proposed hunt was a tough sell. When WG&F set the quotas......it made it easy for the judge to shut down the hunt. Any population of wildlife who can only sustain the loss of one female can't be a huntable population?

It's a difficult argument to win for supportive hunters...…."we are confident that we now have a population that supports hunting......except that when the first sow is taken all hunting shall cease."

Jay Westemeier

This subject is beyond old. Can't Wyoming's legislators concentrate on more important subjects that actually affect the majority of their constituents instead of continued tinkling matches with federal judges and environmental groups? I guess becoming a local hero to a few ranchers, hunters and outfitters is good cover for actually doing the bidding of big gas and mineral companies.

Chad guenter

The Federal Government is a joke. And everyone KNOWS it! Any of it's dictates to us "subjects" should be taken as suggestions at best. Their "authority" should no longer be recognized, just as any other Bankrupted/Corrupt entity isn't.

carol deech

Politicians have no business in science. It clearly shows that Wyoming is not cooperating with trying to follow the rule of law or is willing to recover Grizzlies. If they spent more time understanding the ruling they could be effective in recovery. Try reading and understanding the ruling before you comment. They want this to please their lobbyists so they can destroy the land with drilling. Totally political and not science based decision. $$$$. Hunting a few grizzlies will not prevent conflict. Grizzlies are under attack by climate change and looking for food source. No more white pine nuts, no more cut throat trout. In order for them to reconnect to other regions yeah they have to expand. Common sense which is lacking.

Konrad Lau

The State of Wyoming and its game managers followed every rule and metric laid out by Federal Regulators to bring the bears back to "sustainable" population numbers. When the bears were de-listed as per environmentalists' rules, only then did the environmentalists move the goal post and re-litigate the numbers to prevent hunting.

This is not about the numbers of bears or even sustainable populations and protecting species. This is about banning hunting and fishing in the United States.

Environmentalists have never contributed the monies required for habitat reclamation of hiring personnel needed to make Fish and Game a viable institution. Only hunters and fishers have provided the funds needed for these programs.
Hunting is conservation.
Hunters were the first conservationists.
Hunters are the primary funders of wildlife programs nationwide.
Neo-Marxists have always been against the ownership of personal firearms and the regulated hunting of big game.
Look at how poorly the elk feeding program has been handled by folks claiming to be concerned about their welfare. The program has jeopardized the entire Jackson Hole herd through over-crowding and restrictive culling. They won't even discuss hunting the excess as an option.

Terry Schramm

Wyoming Wildlife Federation as a hunting advocacy group is a misnomer.

Maximilian Werner

The provincial attitudes of WY lawmakers and wildlife managers, and of any state that believes that they and they alone have the final say in decisions that affect us all, should be resigned to the offal heaps of history.

Jim Olson

no, don't hunt the bears. Trophy hunting is morally reprehensible.

Chuck Christopher

Yes, hunt the bears

Noah Osnos

The blood lust demonstrated by pushing native populations to extinction is typical of “conservative” thought in our country (and othets, of course). Why not take a break for a generation or two?

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