Wyoming’s Grizzly Season: The Why’s and Why-Not’s

Fantastic scenery of Wyoming

It finally happened – for the first time in 44 years a grizzly hunting season is approved in the Lower 48. The last time a hunter could legally hunt a grizzly in the mainland USA was before most BookYourHunt stuff have been born. But now the Wyoming Game and Fish Department approved a limited season for grizzly bear hunting.

The subspecies of brown bear known as “grizzly” thrived in the American West until the arrival of European settlers, Loss of habitat, dropping number of buffalo, the prairie grizzly’s staple food, and conflicts with ranchers as bruins took the cattle as the new buffalo, wiped out many of their populations. By 1975, grizzly bears were included in the endangered species list. Restoring the population was a long and tedious process, but by the early 2000s the number of grizzlies around the Yellowstone National Park increased so high that it could support a hunting season. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that grizzlies were removed from the Endangered Species List. This meant states could now decide whether to hunt grizzlies or not.

A grizzly bear on a river bancThe grizzly population in the Lower 48 that can support carefully regulated hunting is known as the Yellowstone population. It’s centered around the Yellowstone National Park, and covers three states: Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. After delisting, the states agreed on the overall maximum harvest quota that will hold zero risk of damaging the populations, and also on quotas for each state. Montana announced that it was considering a grizzly season in 2018, but later postponed the decision until 2019 at least. Idaho also announced it will open a grizzly season in 2018, but there hasn’t been an official confirmation of the season yet. The spotlights focused on Wyoming.

As compared to Idaho, where only one tag will be issued for the state, and only residents will take part in the draw, the proposed season in Wyoming is generous. The total of 22 tags would be drawn, and the entry into the draw will be open for both residents and non-residents. You’d want to consider moving to Wyoming, though, as the price of a tag for a resident hunter will be $600, and $6,000 for a non-resident tag.

But the proposed rules of the hunt are tougher than tough. It goes without saying that bear cubs, and females with cubs, will be illegal. There will be no grizzly hunting inside the National Parks and National Monuments. The tags are distributed across wildlife management areas, and those are grouped within two larger areas.

One is known as “Demographic Monitoring Area” (DMA), It’s the part of state that’s nearest to the national park, and that holds the largest densities of grizzlies. Only ten tags will be issued for that area. Every hunter that wins the tag will have only ten days to hunt. There will be only one hunter at a time in the DMA, to make sure the quotas aren’t accidentally exceeded. The quotas for the core hunting area are 10 males or 1 female. That’s right, if one hunter accidentally shoots a female grizzly, the hunt is off for all who haven’t yet filled their tags with male grizzlies.

The other 12 tags will be issued for WMA’s outside the Demographic Monitoring Area. Regulations will be easier there, but that probably isn’t going to help, as the grizzly densities are lower. Overall, Wyoming Game and Fish Department openly admits the rules were drawn not to maximize hunting success, but to ensure maximum chances to participate.

Predictably, there has been a great backlash from the grizzly loving public. It is reported that Wyoming Game and Fish received 3,000 letters, with all possible opinions, but 3/4 of them were in opposition of the hunt. What happened to hunters? Come on! There are obviously many more than 2,250 people, in Wyoming and elsewhere, who welcome the chance to harvest a grizzly in the Lower 48, and believe the proposed season is sustainable. How hard can it be to type a few words of support?

Hunters like to complain about animal rights and vegans who occupied all mass media. But why, when the Game and Fish Department officially accepts comments on a proposal like opening the grizzly hunt, the anti-hunting people send in their opinions, but hunters don’t? Are the people lazy? Put off by online bullying? Or that pro-hunting organizations don’t do enough to inform and advise?

The Game and Fish Department said beforehand that the matter was not a public referendum, and the public opinions are only a reference, not a command. And they proved that by voting 7-0 in favor of the proposed grizzly bear season. But the story isn’t over – there might be more protests and even legal action from the anti-hunting bodies. If we want the hunt to go on, we must be more active in defending what we believe is right and sensible, and also do our best to educate well-meaning, but often uninformed public.

A stunning view of Wyoming mountainsIn case you get into an argument with someone opposing the grizzly hunting season in the lower 48, here are some common arguments and counter-arguments.

– hunters will kill all bears

No. Only fewer than 22 of them. Fewer because the season is designed to minimize the chances for a successful hunt. 12 of the tags are for the area that is outside normal grizzly range (i.e., where the grizzlies are few and not welcome). Success rate there will hardly be more than 25%. 10 remaining tags are for areas with high grizzly densities. But each hunter will have only 10 days for a hunt, and if any of them kills a female, the hunt is off for all. 50% is absolutely the highest success rate that can be expected under the circumstances. Realistically, a maximum of 7-8 grizzlies will be harvested, and this is about 10% of average annual grizzly mortality in Wyoming. Honestly nothing to worry about.

– there’s no killing any bears now

In fact, people are already killing dozens of grizzlies each year. Some grizzlies die in traffic collisions, but mostly their death is the result of a conflict with people. When grizzlies begin to kill cattle or conflict with humans over garbage bins, they sometimes get killed – legally, by Game and Fish Services, or illegally, by people who prefer the “shoot, shovel, shut up” approach. If conflict bears are relocated, some die from unexpected perils they face in unfamiliar areas. More commonly, bears return to the same area and continue the same killing cattle and garbage raiding routines that had them relocated. That gets them either shot in self-defense or euthanized as repeat offenders. Some poaching for hides and meat has also been on record.

– an open season will only make matters worse

Not really. Counterintuitively perhaps, it can be expected to reduce bear mortality by lowering the number of conflicts that get bears killed. The bears who engage in cattle killing and otherwise confront people are often big male dominant bears, the kind that will be first and foremost targeted by hunters. When grizzlies realize they’re being hunted, it will likely make them more shy of humans. That would decrease cattle killing (that ultimately gets a bear “euthanized”) and conflicts over carcasses of deer and elk (a situation when a hunter is often forced to fire in self-defense).

– trophy hunting increases infanticide

This is true for lions and leopards, but the jury’s still out whether it holds true with bears. Dominant male grizzlies do kill and eat small cubs. What happens if you kill such a bear? One theory, supported by one study on one small territory in Sweden, states it will increase infanticide, as the subdominant young males move into the territory that used to be controlled by the deceased. However, a large-scale research in Alaska showed that cub survival chances are better on territories with trophy hunting than in no-hunting areas. Apparently, mother bears find it easier to protect their young from smaller subdominant males, and so infanticide is reduced. This theory matches empirical observations by outfitters and wildlife managers, and overall sounds more convincing.

– the season will undermine all effort of grizzly recovery

When the recovery plans were set, the developers agreed on just how many bears they wanted to ensure a healthy stable population. The objective has been exceeded in the early 2000s. The concern is that the legal harvest, combined with other mortality causes, will reverse the trend and the grizzly population will decrease. This will not happen. The paradox of conservation is that a limited and controlled hunt is precisely what this population needs to prosper. There are numerous success stories worldwide that proves it, including the Bukhara markhor restoration project in Tajikistan. All these projects are not based on “abundance first, hunt later”. They’re based on “hunt a very limited number of animals, and use the proceeds to increase their number so that you can hunt more, until you reach abundance”. One of the reason for the success is that such projects change the attitude of people who live with the fauna on a daily basis, giving value to animals that are otherwise only nuisance, and encouraging all stakeholders to put more effort in their conservation.

– grizzly season will damage common interest for the benefit of the few

What is meant here is that bear watching is a big industry in the relevant states, and the concern is that with hunting, bears will become scarcer and more wary, and thus harder to see and photograph. In fact, hunting won’t be allowed anywhere near popular bear watching sites. As for increased wariness, with the proverbial human-bear conflicts in Yellowstone, when bears go all the way up to breaking into cars and tents to beg for and steal food, maybe it won’t be such a bad thing after all.

– there’s no reason to hunt a grizzly

“… other than a wish of rich white males to satisfy their ego”. Leaving aside the racism and incorrectness of the “rich white males” part, there are many reasons to hunt grizzlies. First, it is a fact that grizzly population has increased well over target numbers, and the growth will need to be controlled at some point. Second, because it’s how the North American Conservation Model works. It shines at its best when the animals in question bring about income, and not only trouble. Third, because legal hunting makes it easier for people who actually have to live with bears to live with bears.

– do populations really have to be controlled? Why not let nature take its course?

Indeed, Nature has ways to control overpopulation. But these ways are slow, cruel, usually result in a crush of the population, and only begin to work after overpopulation takes place. Grizzlies are awesome creatures, highly intelligent – some people who’s lived among bears believe they’re capable of basic reasoning and complex emotions, including malice – and very dangerous to live alongside. Bears are cute when you observe them from a distance, and when there’s an abundance of food sources. When they come to your neighborhood in numbers, hungry and mean, they are anything but cute. In other words, you sure don’t want an overpopulation of grizzlies. You’ll want some measures to be taken in advance.

– killing can’t contribute to conservation

The very opposite has been proved, time and again, by various conservation projects in the USA and elsewhere. Legal harvest that’s beneficial for the local population greatly reduces illegal harvest. Studies show that people in rural areas of the USA are more tolerant of the presence of apex predators (including grizzlies, black bears, wolves and mountain lions) if these predators can be legally hunted. On a human perspective, it’s perfectly understandable. Place yourself in the shoes of a rancher whose cow has been killed by a bear. Without legal hunting, there are but two options. One is to call the authorities, which can be slow and not always efficient (grizzlies, in particular, are notorious for returning to their home ranges after being captured and relocated). The other is to shoot the suspect illegally. Legal hunting offers two more options – to try and get even with the critter when the season opens, or to cooperate with an outfitter who’ll bring in a hunter, and get rewarded for the tip or permission to hunt on their land.

– economic effect of hunting is negligible.

Another example of the old saying “there’s lies, big lies, and statistics”. Economic contribution of hunting may not be significant at a national scale, but it sure makes a difference in the areas where hunting takes place. Visiting hunters are a big boost for remote wilderness areas. One will make a few dollars as a guide, another will rent out horses or mules; the local motels, gas stations and general stores see a sales boost. In Wyoming, in particular, economic effect of hunting is far from insignificant. But the most important part is that by-county spending analysis shows that the money comes where it matters most – in areas where there are fewer economic alternatives.

A hunting guide leading a pack horse caravan across a river in WyomingNow that Wyoming approved the hunt, all those wishing to participate must set aside July 2, which opens the opportunity to enter for the draw. How does one hunt a Western grizzly? Spot and stalk will probably be the method of choice, as baiting will definitely not be allowed in the DMA, and probably not in the other zones. How high will the success rate be? Will Wyoming guides and outfitters offer their services to the lucky winners, and will the hunters use them, or prefer to hunt by themselves? All these interesting questions, however, will be immaterial if protests and court actions stop the season in its tracks. Wyoming Game and Fish did not yield to pressure, but they sure need hunters’ help to withstands the storms to come.

Please, take your time to write a letter of support to Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The “thousands” of angry letters, on close scrutiny, turn out to be just a handful, easily outnumbered by hunters statewide. Let’s have, at least, one letter supporting of the season for every letter protesting the season. Give evidence that the claim “the majority is against the hunt” is false!

An American hunter who hasn’t drawn a tag will still have many options to hunt brown bears. The Alaska and Kamchatka bruins are world-famous, but the cost of the hunt may not fit every budget. Since last year, brown bear hunting has been banned in British Columbia, and the only remaining Canadian province that welcomes grizzly hunters is the Yukon, which is just as pricey as Alaska. However, brown bears – and it’s the same species – inhabit many Asian and Europeans countries. Some have open seasons. Prices for bear hunting in some areas of Russia are so ridiculously low, as compared to Alaska and Kamchatka, that many hunters suspect foul play. But it’s entirely possible to fit the bill into $2,000 (travel exclusive) if you limit yourself to the European part of the country within a few hours from the capital (read this story for more details on bear hunting options in different areas of Russia).

Find your brown bear hunt on BookYourHunt.com!


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