Gov. Mark Gordon on Monday called on the federal government to withdraw its protection of grizzly bears from the Yellowstone ecosystem, an act that could see grizzly bear hunting in Wyoming outside national parks.
The petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to declare grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem distinct from the other three extant populations in the country and neither threatened nor endangered. The petition calls on the federal wildlife agency to remove the Yellowstone Ecosystem population from the list of threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The 27-page petition claims grizzly bears in the ecosystem have recovered from their dangerously low numbers and that Wyoming has resolved the legal issues that prevented deregistration. Legally, the state is committed to ensuring the genetic viability of the isolated population by transplanting outdoor bears into the Yellowstone area.
Wyoming has also pledged to recalibrate minimum population goals under a new counting method that has increased ecosystem population estimates from just over 700 bears to over 1,000.
“There is no biological or legal reason to keep [Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem] grizzly listed,” read a statement released by the governor’s office. “States have applied the best available population models, and the most recent data show that grizzly bear populations have exceeded the limits of the bear’s biological and socially appropriate range.”
who said what
“This is an extraordinary and monumental achievement for species recovery and should be celebrated,” Gordon said in a statement. “The GYE grizzly bear is poised to join the ranks of the bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon, and brown pelican as a thriving, recovered, and stable species.”
Not so fast, said Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We don’t think the grizzlies are fully recovered,” she said. “They remain in just four isolated populations occupying only 6% of their historic range.
“Wyoming is likely to move forward with aggressive trophy hunts,” if grizzly bears are delisted, she said. “There is no science supporting the need for trophy hunting of grizzly bears,” she continued, and states have not shown they can manage predators based on science rather than policy.
The state’s petition states that “opponents could not be more wrong.” Wyoming has contributed to the recovery of the grizzly bear as bear numbers have increased from 136 in 1975 to more than 1,000 today, the petition states.
“The hunting issue is separate from this particular petition,” Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Tuesday. “The last time Game and Fish considered hunting grizzly bears, it was based on science and our background with gray wolves and mountain lions, which we’ve been able to hunt with great success.
“This petition reflects some commitments, bold commitments that the state is making in response to the recent circuit court ruling,” he said. “I don’t think there are any unturned stones.”
why is it important
Grizzly bears are huge draws to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, where visitors yearn to see them roaming, foraging or hunting prey. Grizzly supporters say famous bears, such as the famous 399 and his family of four in Grand Teton, are ambassadors who teach people about the environment, conservation and more.
Some fear that the hunt could disrupt this dynamic, perhaps even leading to the death of famous bears. Wyoming’s latest proposed hunting season, which a court blocked, included a no-hunting buffer around Grand Teton.
Grizzly bears are also blamed for conflicts with ranchers and ranchers, preying on many, sometimes dozens, of their cattle or sheep each year. Wyoming Game and Fish compensates for losses suffered by grizzly bears, sometimes paying the owner up to three times the value of a confirmed animal killed by a grizzly bear.
The grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone ecosystem is isolated from other populations. This makes natural genetic exchange a challenge that critics say could be insurmountable with hunting pressure.
After placing the species on the endangered wildlife list in all or part of its range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department have seen their numbers steadily increase. Wyoming has invested more than $52 million in grizzly bear management, Gordon said.
A new agreement with Idaho and Montana defines how the three states will manage the population of the ecosystem within their jurisdictions. This agreement includes how “discretionary mortalities” like hunting would be distributed among the three states.
The government has sought to remove federal protection for Yellowstone grizzly bears, but legal challenges have hampered that effort, most recently in 2017. In the ruling, a federal court said questions about genetic diversity and minimum recalibration of the population were unresponsive.
Wyoming believes it has now resolved these issues. Nesvik said he hopes to receive a response from federal wildlife officials within 90 days and a final decision within a year.