Wildlife: Wyoming grizzly hunting plan challenged in court

Grizzly bear attacks are rare, and hikers are encouraged to carry pepper spray to deter attacks. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.
Grizzlies are under the gun in Wyoming. Photo via USFWS.

Activists say public was short-changed on comment period

Staff Report

Wildlife advocates are going to court to challenge a proposed grizzly hunting plan in Wyoming. A lawsuit filed last week alleges that he Wyoming Game and Fish Commission illegally fast-tracked approval of the plan without allowing adequate public comment.

The approval would authorize the state’s first trophy hunt of grizzly bears in 40 years, but the public only had 30 days to review and comment on the plan — far too short to be able to evaluate the biological consequences of the proposed hunt. The commission simultaneously adopted a tri-state memorandum of agreement with Idaho and Montana to formalize quotas for grizzly hunts, allocating over 50 percent of the quota to Wyoming.

“I am deeply concerned about the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s apparent lack of respect for the will of the public,” said Jim Laybourn, a lifelong Wyoming resident who has spent thousands of hours observing grizzly bears in the field. “Grizzly bears are the keystone species of both our ecosystem and our economy, worth tens of millions in tourism dollars each year. The management plan will remain fatally flawed until the commission gives the community whose livelihood depends on grizzlies an opportunity to make their voices heard.”

Conservation advocates say there’s plenty of science showing that trophy hunting causes long-term harm to species like grizzlies by specifically targeting the biggest and strongest males. That reduces the genetic viability of a species and has cascading impacts on the social dynamics of apex predators, including increasing infanticide. And a recent study demonstrated that when states allow recreational trophy hunting of carnivores, it increases the rate of poaching by normalizing killing.

“The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has once again ignored scientific evidence and promoted the persecution of large carnivores,” said Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife litigation at The Humane Society of the United States. “The public must be given ample time to scrutinize any proposal to commercialize our wildlife heritage.”

The state’s move came just a few months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to delist grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem and turn their management over to the states. The proposed hunt could put the recovery of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone in jeopardy. As soon as bears leave Yellowstone National Park, they will be in danger of being shot.

This unsustainable scheme will prevent the Yellowstone population from connecting to any other bear populations, a connectivity the Service has acknowledged Yellowstone bears need to ensure long-term genetic health, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This trigger-happy plan allows hunters to specifically target the very grizzly bears that are key to creating the genetic connectivity with other grizzly populations that’s absolutely needed to protect the long-term genetic health of Yellowstone grizzlies,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “By putting these important bears at great risk the second they step outside park boundaries, this plan threatens the long-term recovery of grizzly bears in the northern Rockies.”

The plaintiffs are seeking to reopen the comment period on the state proposals in order to allow members of the public the appropriate time to express their views on whether this majestic animal should be managed by the best-available science or by states anxious to attract globetrotting trophy hunters.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from The Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, and local counsel Megan Hayes.

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