(Gillette, Wyo.) The Wyoming Game and Fish Department held the last of nine meetings today to get public input on the grizzly bear management plan, in the wake of the animal’s delisting from the endangered species list.
This effectively reverted conservation efforts back to the state entity from the federal level.
Today’s meeting was held online to allow those who could not be present at previous meetings to participate in the outreach and feedback sessions.
Renny Mackay, communications director for the department, stressed that today’s discussion wasn’t the result of any proposal that had been made. The department is actually developing a conservation plan, and soliciting input prior to that development.
Dan Thompson, large carnivore section supervisor, wanted people to know, despite reports in the media, the delisting did not strip the bears of all conservation protections.
“That’s simply not true,” Thompson said.
However, the bear population has risen to a point that some form of management is becoming more and more necessary. He compared the bears’ territory to a sardine can.
“The sardine can in the area is full,” Thompson explained. “There has to be at some point removal.”
Currently, lethal removal techniques are sometimes deployed, as well as donations to zoos.
A lot of the questions today were primarily concerned with plans for opening up hunting permits for the bears.
“The notion of hunting is controversial,” Thompson said.
The participants were allowed to post questions in the comments, and many of them were critical of hunting. One person was asking why the department was even considering permitting hunts at all.
“Our public has asked us to (consider hunting), and it’s supportable. We have a responsibility to have a conversation on that,” Mackay explained.
Carol Deech wrote in the comments, “So you believe killing 10 bears will reduce conflict? And make grizzlies afraid of humans.. Really? Why bother? The annual report has 51 bears already killed this year. This makes no sense at all!” It was unclear if Deech is a Wyoming resident.
However, other commenters were supportive of the department and its management efforts.
“As any good wildlife manager knows, hunting is a valuable management tool that I fully support in the management of the grizzly in Wyoming,” said Jeff Muratore from Casper.
Cindy Campbell, a commenter from Wilson, Wyo., wrote that there was no proof that hunting animals creates fear of humans. So hunting would not be an effective tool in the management of human and bear conflicts, she was arguing.
The banner on her Facebook page expressed strong anti-grizzly hunting sentiments.
Thompson said the research thus far is unclear on how hunting would impact the animals’ behavior. They have not been hunted in over 40 years. Since none of the bears in the population are older than that, none of the bears had ever been exposed to hunting. Thompson suggested the population in the conservation area presents an opportunity to explore those research questions.
“Rather than speculate on it, I’d like to study it,” Thompson stated.
Some commenters asked how the department, if it began permitting grizzly hunts, would prevent hunters from taking sows and cubs.
Thompson explained the department might have some education required for drawing a license.
Nesvik pointed out that other species that are legally hunted with permits also have restrictions on certain genders and ages. Grizzly bears would be no different.
The commenters asked questions about costs, should the hunts be permitted.
MacKay explained the permit fees are set by the state legislature, which did so “long ago.” The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission does not set those. If the department begins licensing permits, the cost would be $600 for a resident and $6,000 for a non-resident of Wyoming.
Others were curious what weapons would be permitted. MacKay said archery and rifles would be permitted, with restrictions on type and caliber. Trapping would not.
“I don’t foresee that as a legal method of take in the near future,” Thompson said.
If the department does begin permitting grizzly hunts, the earliest will be fall of 2018.
The department will be factoring in the comments from today’s and the eight previous meetings as it develops a final management plan.