The first Wyoming grizzly bear hunt in over four decades will target 24 animals if commissioners who oversee the state’s wildlife sign off on a proposal released Friday.
A topic of fierce controversy, the hunt is being devised in a way that state officials hope will limit the chance of the bold large carnivore being shot in public view, or killed adjacent to Grand Teton National Park. A no-hunting zone will abut the east boundary of the park, and throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem it will be illegal to kill a grizzly within a quarter-mile of a named highway, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Warden Brian Nesvik said.
“The intention is to address public concern that was focused on there being hunting and wildlife viewing going on at the same time,” Nesvik said.
Half of the overall statewide quota — 10 male bears and two females — is being distributed among six hunt zones that fall within a 19,279-square-mile “demographic monitoring area” in the Yellowstone region’s core. Another 12 grizzlies of either sex will be targeted outside this area, in zone 7, which encompasses outskirts of the ecosystem where the federal government is not imposing limits on hunting.
The rules on hunting outlined in the draft regulations greatly differ inside and outside of 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.
“People will put in for a license, but we will only take the top two on the list,” Nesvik said. “They would essentially be able to choose any of those six hunt areas up until the time either the female mortality limit is reached, or the sub-quota for that particular area is reached.”
Hunters pursuing grizzlies in the monitoring area also must carry a Game and Fish-issued satellite device that sends text messages. When a bear is killed, they’ll be required to report its death and the sex immediately.
“Let’s just say that the first two hunters harvest male bears,” Nesvik said. “When they’re done, then we’ll send the next two guys or gals out the door. And we’ll keep doing that until either the season ends, the female mortality limit is reached or the total mortality of females and males is reached.”
Game and Fish will request, but not require, that hunters focus their attention on male bears, which can be tricky to distinguish from females. Those who draw licenses will be required to receive an in-person education on how to best discern between the sexes.
Outside of the monitoring area is a single hunting zone, dubbed area 7 in the regulations. In this area, the dozen hunters who draw a license will not be subject to the same two-at-a-time system. Carrying the state-issued texting device will also not be required outside the monitoring area. Baiting will also be permitted inside of the hunting area 7, but not in the six hunt zones in the demographic monitoring area.
“Outside the DMA,” Nesvik said, “we’ll issue licenses like we would an elk area.”
The legal season for grizzly bears will be Sept. 1 through Nov. 15, and the state has for now ruled out a springtime hunt, which exists for black bears. An application period for the lottery will go from July 2 to 16.
Jackson Hole contains two grizzly bear hunt zones. Area two, in the northern parts of the valley, allows for a maximum of one bear to be harvested. Area six, to the south, covers the Gros Ventre and Hoback river drainages, and permits two bears to be killed.
Hunting grizzly bears is possible because in 2017 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relinquished management of the formerly “threatened” species, which has met recovery goals in the three-state Yellowstone region. The population was last estimated at 718 animals, a count that’s restricted to the demographic monitoring area.
Montana wildlife managers have already signaled they will not purse a hunt in 2018. Idaho officials have not yet announced their intentions.
One conservationist’s first-blush reaction to Wyoming’s plans for a grizzly hunt was disappointment. Andrea Santarsiere, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney based in Victor, Idaho, was surprised with the overall intensity of the harvest.
“It’s substantially higher than I thought they would propose, and I think it’s just disappointing,” Santarsiere said. “Montana just announced that they wouldn’t hunt grizzly bears, and it’s sad that Wyoming wouldn’t follow suit and wait a year to see how they do after delisting.”
Roger Hayden, conservation director for Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, also thought 24 grizzlies was too many, and his wish was for no hunting whatsoever. But he also spoke favorably about some parts of the draft regulations.
“If they insist on a hunt, I appreciate a buffer around the park,” Hayden said. “I think the satellite device is a good idea, and in the DMA it looks like they’re being fairly careful, which I appreciate.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is scheduled to review the regulations at a special May 23 meeting in Lander.
In the meantime, the agency is inviting the public to weigh in on the draft regulations. Comments are due by April 30. There will also be eight public meetings around the state, including a 6 p.m. April 17 meeting at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson.
Editors note: This story has been updated to clarify that there are no male or female grizzly bear sub-quotas in hunt area 7.