There’s good news for bears in Wyoming. Not just any bears, not the kind of bears that visit garbage dumps or occasionally raid back yard barbeques in just about any place they are found. Those are black bears. The good news is for Wyoming’s grizzly bears.
For most of my life grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were either non-existant or if, (like Wyoming, Montana and in a few other states) there were any grizzes, they were so close to extirpation the big bears warranted inclusion on the federal Endangered Species List.
These bears were one of the first animals to be put on the list, picked because it is a large, spectacular and iconic species like the bald eagle. It’s numbers had dwindled and the usual culprits were to blame – habitat losses and changes, as well as unregulated shooting under the guise of predator control.
Being put on the ES list is both a good and bad thing for most mammals. Prior to being listed they are controlled, protected and managed by state wildlife agencies, often mostly neglected because these agencies are funded only by sportsmen dollars. There’s not enough money to do the game and fish work as well as the non-game. Once an animal is put on the list, they become wards of the federal government. However, once they become federalized, the road to recovery often stretches to nearly forever. Proven time and again, the federal agencies working to save the animals are seldom willing to completely save them.
Why? Because when an endangered species becomes unendangered, the control and management of the animal reverts back to state agencies. Federal projects for them are closed, biologists reassigned and money diverted elsewhere. Where’s the incentive at the field level or at the bureaucratic level?
The good news for Wyoming grizzlies is they are now so “officially” unendangered they are now back under the control of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The better news for the Wyoming grizzly population is the Game and Fish Department recently announced grizzlies are now added to the list of game animals in the state and a hunting season will be allowed.
One might question how this could be construed as a positive step for grizzlies. Here’s why. The hunting will be strictly regulated. Only certain areas of the state will be open for hunting. Those areas have been chosen because the population there is at or above optimum numbers. There will be a strict harvest quota in effect. The G&F Department has determined how many bears can be harvested in a hunting district and when that number is reached, the season will be closed.
This is the American system of wildlife management at work and it’s worked well for over a century. How well? While dozens of species of non-game animals have dwindled away with time, with or without government intervention, there’s never been a game animal put on the endangered species list. Most have flourished.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but being a game animal makes it valuable. Sure, there’s some value in a non-game grizzly roaming the wilds from a human, altruistic perspective. How many altruistic humans are willing to pay the the Wyoming G&FD thousands of dollars and chip in additional thousands to guides, outfitters, taxidermists and other businesses to make up for not hunting grizzlies?
Not many, at least, not enough and not year after year after year as hunters will do. Hundreds of hunters will purchase the $6000 hunting permit from the state for the chance to hunt and harvest a grizzly. Few will succeed, but just as many will pay the fee the next year and the next and each successful applicant will be paying for grizzly biologists and managers, as well as hiring guides, outfitters and other businesses. Grizzly hunting will bring millions of dollars to the Wyoming F&GD and the rest of the state’s economy.
Bears will have great value and those in charge will ensure the bear population stays stable or continues to grow. That’s good news for Wyoming bears.
Soon to follow, Idaho and Montana bears. Grizzlies have recovered in those states as well and the game management agencies in each of those states are doing the work needed to plan for and place their big bears back on their own lists of game animals.