Wyoming wildlife managers say their proposed no-hunting buffer lining the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park is intended to prevent the killing of grizzly bears that have become world famous.
Although a grizzly hunt is not set in stone, draft regulations for the Equality State’s first open season on Ursus arctos horribilis since the early 1970s were unveiled to the public last week. Among the plans is a relatively large area off limits to killing bears, including significant portions of the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River and Pilgrim, Pacific, Spread and Ditch creek drainages.
“Biologically, we could have hunted them there for sure,” said Dan Thompson, who supervises large carnivore management for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Roadside bears that “people are really keyed into” were a driving factor for prohibiting grizzly hunting in an area where the large carnivores are numerous.
“We understand there are a lot of people viewing those,” Thompson said, “and there’s a lot of interest in that. That was something we tried to incorporate into these draft regulations, based on what we heard from the public.”
The Teton Wilderness high country east of Teton park is where the famed matriarch grizzly sow known as 399 goes to den each fall. Members of her clan have their own Facebook pages, and the roadside bruins have been the subject of a book, “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek.”
Tentatively closed areas east of Grand Teton also provide denning grounds and seasonal ranges for other grizzlies that wander across the park line to much fanfare each summer. The buffer is as much as 18 miles wide in places. It extends from Yellowstone National Park on the north side to the Gros Ventre Road, a 35-mile span.
Game and Fish is also prohibiting hunting in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, and the sport is barred within areas outside the state’s jurisdiction: the national parks, the National Elk Refuge and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Wildlife mangers have also proposed to prohibit hunting within a quarter-mile of a named highway throughout the ecosystem.
There is no buffer along the west and south sides of Teton park, nor an off-limits zone that abuts Yellowstone.
Plan called ‘conservative’
Wyoming wildlife managers have pitched their hunt as cautious and conservative, but the proposal hasn’t won over environmental advocacy groups whose goal is no hunting at all, or at least a delay.
Montana opted to not authorize rifle fire aimed at the Yellowstone region’s approximately 700 grizzlies. Idaho hasn’t announced its plan but would be bound anyway by a tristate agreement that would cap its hunt at one male bear.
Statewide, the Wyoming hunt would target up to 23 animals. About half of the overall quota — 10 male bears and two females — is distributed among six hunt zones that fall within a tightly managed 19,279-square-mile “demographic monitoring area” in the Yellowstone region’s core. Hunting will cease in these six areas when hunters reach either the male or female quota, which explains why the statewide limit is 23 and not 24.
Another 12 grizzlies of either sex will be targeted outside that area, in zone 7, which encompasses the outskirts of the ecosystem where the federal government and three-state accord does not impose any limits on hunting.
The rules on hunting outlined in the draft regulations greatly differ inside and outside the monitoring area. To ensure that no more than two female bears are killed, a maximum of two hunters at a time will be allowed afield within the monitoring area. Hunters in any of hunt areas 1 through 6 would have to carry a Game and Fish-issued satellite device that sends text messages and immediately report a kill.
It’s much more business-as-usual in expansive area 7, where hunters will neither be subject to the same two-at-a-time system nor be required to carry the texting device. Baiting may also be allowed in hunting zone 7, but not the other six zones.
The legal season for grizzly bears is slated for Sept. 1 through Nov. 15 in hunt area 7, and Sept. 15 through Nov. 15 everywhere else. An application period for the lottery will run from July 2 to 16. Licenses are the priciest of all game species in Wyoming, running $600 for a resident and $6,000 for an out-of-state hunter.
Three-bear limit in the Hole
Jackson Hole contains two grizzly hunting zones.
Zone 2, which allows for no more than one bear to be harvested, is a split zone that includes the west slope of the Tetons, from Yellowstone south to Highway 22. Private land immediately south of Grand Teton Park is included in the open zone, as are Teton Wilderness lands east of the no-hunting buffer.
Zone 6, with a two-bear limit, is the other open area near Jackson Hole. It includes all of the Gros Ventre and Snake River ranges, parts of the Wyoming Range, and juts north into the Leidy Highlands all the way to Togwotee Pass.
Conservation groups are still wading into details of the hunting regulations but largely remain opposed to the overall premise. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which sought a five-year moratorium on hunting, will continue to fight the state’s pursuit of a season, Wildlife Program Coordinator Chris Colligan said.
“The silver lining here is that Wyoming is acknowledging the value of bears around national parks in some ways,” Colligan said. “Unfortunately there are many parts of this proposal that we believe are reckless.
“We think it’s too many bears,” he said, “especially given that we have had two record years of conflict mortality in the ecosystem. This proposal has the potential to drag the population down over time.”
The Cody-based Western Bear Foundation, a hook-and-bullet group with an interest in both conserving and hunting grizzlies, had a much different perception.
“All in all our group feels that it’s a really sound plan based on the guardrails that are in place to protect overharvest of sows,” Western Bear Foundation President Joe Kondelis said.
The 23-animal limit, he said, is “just right,” and the group is not pushing back against the no-hunting buffer.
“It allows for fewer issues with road hunting,” Kondelis said, “hunting where there’s a lot of people and having something potentially go wrong with a hunter and bear in Grand Teton National Park.”
Another subset of the community remains steadfastly opposed to hunting grizzlies specifically, and trophy hunting generally. Wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen, whose images helped bring grizzly 399 and her kin to prominence, said the buffer zone is “all fine and dandy.”
“But regardless of the boundaries and safety zones, it’s not enough,” Mangelsen said. “It’ll never be enough. It’s a sh---y compromise.
“We spent all this time, money and energy increasing the population, and now we’re going to go backwards,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. It shows that the other states are maybe more evolved, I guess.”
Editors note: This story has been updated to clarify that there are no male or female grizzly bear sub-quotas in hunt area 7.