Wyoming Game and Fish announced the winners of a random draw for 22 potential grizzly bear hunting tags last Thursday as the state revs up for a Sept. 1 season that still faces court challenges.
This would be the first authorized hunt of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly in the state in 44 years and the license awards took place almost one year after the Wyoming, Montana and Idaho assumed management of the iconic animal from the federal government.
Wyoming took control of bear management last July 31 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it a recovered species and delisted the Yellowstone grizzly from Endangered Species Act protection.
“It went good,” said Brian Nesvik, the state’s chief wildlife officer, of the process.
There were applications for 11 available licenses in the Demographic Monitoring Area from 3,500 residents and 2,327 nonresidents. That covers hunt areas 1-6.
There were applications for 11 available licenses from 948 residents and 530 nonresidents for area 7, which is outside the monitoring area where habitat is not considered to be as bountiful for the animals.
By law, there is a 75-25 resident-nonresident split in awarding the licenses.
The two hunts combined could last as long as Sept. 1-Nov. 15, but inside the DMA if a single sow is killed, the hunt could be instantly terminated.
What the department calls a very conservative first hunt under its management plan is based on a stated recovered grizzly population of just more than 700 bears in the region.
Tight limits were placed on the hunt by a restrictive and complex formula agreed to by the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Recently, six conservation groups challenged the legitimacy of the hunt because four additional grizzly deaths last fall were not factored into the statistics. The deceased bears were not found until after the winter.
However, Nesvik said while Game and Fish did not know about the bear deaths when it developed its hunt formula, the overall plan contains an “unknown, unreported” contingency category and the late changes get carried over into the next year’s mortality statistics.
Under the rules of the hunt only one hunter will be allowed to go into the field at a time in the DMA. All grizzly hunters can only go out after taking a variety of safety and informational courses.
During the application process, those opposed to grizzly hunting urged individuals who do not hunt to get involved and bid for a license.
Thomas Mangelsen, a famous Jackson Hole wildlife photographer did so and personally announced he had obtained one of the coveted spots. He said he is No. 8 on the call list, but has no intention of hunting. He plans to shoot a camera, not a rifle.
A Jackson Hole group recently began an organization called “Shoot’em With A Camera – Not A Gun” that is consistent with Mangelsen’s effort.
The initiation of any Wyoming hunt remains contingent on whether or not a federal judge in Missoula, Mont. allows it.
A consolidated package of six lawsuits offering a suite of challenges to recent state and federal governmental grizzly actions awaits an Aug. 30 hearing.
One complaint alleges delisting of the grizzly was premature and its management should be returned to the U.S. government under the Endangered Species Act list.
That would indefinitely render moot Wyoming’s hunt plan.