Flouting a federal judge’s order to block Wyoming from hunting grizzlies, state legislators overwhelmingly supported a bill that would allow wildlife officials to move ahead with an illegal hunt.
The House of Representatives on Monday approved Senate File 93 by a vote of 52-7. Having passed both chambers of the Legislature, the bill needs only Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature to go into effect.
It would authorize the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to conduct a hunt in defiance of U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen’s ruling that restored the species’ “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act.
The bears were delisted in 2017 after decades of protection, and in September wildlife officials scheduled the first hunt for generations in the Rockies. They planned to issue licenses for 23 of the 700 or so bears estimated to live in the region.
But Christensen revoked the state’s jurisdiction over grizzlies in the Yellowstone area, saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in delisting the species in the first place.
Wyoming politicians condemned the ruling. Even U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney chimed in to scold the judge from Missoula, Montana, arguing the bears have indeed recovered and that the state should have the authority to manage its wildlife as it sees fit.
In fact, the bill attributes the bears’ recovery to “the efforts of the state of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the citizens of the state.”
Legislators realize the implications of disregarding Christensen’s order. Senate File 93 contains a few crucial “mays,” as opposed to “shalls,” making the hunt a possibility rather than a command.
“The reason we don’t say ‘shall’ is because we can’t ask our Game and Fish people to be convicted felons,” Sen. Eli Bebout, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide last month. “That’s what it would do if we did that.”
The legislation would also allow Game and Fish to relocate bears — if they deem it necessary to protect Wyoming citizens and tourists — to “states with a grizzly bear population below the threshold for Endangered Species Act protection or to other willing states with suitable habitat.”
“Frankly, I think this is a good way to help meet those recovery objectives,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Sublette, who introduced the amendment.
Teton County legislators Reps. Jim Roscoe and Andy Schwartz, and Sen. Mike Gierau voted for the bill. Rep. Mike Yin opposed it.