Wyoming to Vote on First Grizzly Hunting Season in Decades

On May 23, in Lander Wyoming, the state will hold a final vote on whether to implement the first grizzly season since the bears were officially listed as endangered in 1975.

If voted yes, Wyoming’s season will consist of two hunting zones. One area close to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, called the demographic monitoring area, was deemed by biologists as suitable habitat for the grizzly population. The surrounding hunt zone was designated as nonsuitable habitat as it consists of a higher density of humans and a potential conflict area for bears and people.

If approved, the season will begin on September first and feature some of the tightest regulations of any season in the country. Eleven would be awarded for the suitable habitat zone with a quota for ten males and one female, and another 12 tags will be granted to the nonsuitable habitat with no gender-specific quota.

Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone on onX Hunt Hunting App

Inside the suitable habitat zone, the season will come to an abrupt end as soon as one female is harvested. To mitigate the possibility of overharvesting, only two hunters will be allowed in the zone at a time.

Every hunter lucky enough to draw a tag and be in the zone will also be issued a spot receiver, which will allow them to immediately report their harvest and help Wyoming Game and Fish keep a close eye on harvest numbers.

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Communications Director for Wyoming Game and Fish Renny Makay said the tight regulations are a chance for Wyoming officials to show how dedicated the state is to the success of the bears.

“We really do want to take an approach that shows folks we want to do it right and shows people we will maintain a recovered population of grizzly bears in their habitat,” Makay said.

Along with the tight regulations, Makay said each grizzly hunter will go through mandatory education on identifying a male or a female bear.

Makay said Wyoming Game and Fish have been transparent with Wyoming residents through the process and have multiple opportunities for the public to weigh in. He also said there will be one last opportunity for public opinion before the final vote on the 23rd. The vote will be live-streamed for people to access across the state who can’t make the drive to Lander.

Wyoming Game and Fish will post a link to the live stream on their website on the day of the vote.

Even if a majority votes yes on the season, though, one obstacle would still remain in the form of a Federal judge in Missoula.

As soon as the bears were announced as recovered and not in need of Federal protection, several lawsuits were filed against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Wyoming requested the lawsuits be delayed until after the proposed hunting season. The final arguments between FWS and the parties filing the lawsuits will be held in August and the outcome could determine whether the bears go back to being a protected species, thus ending any chance of a hunting season while negating the efforts of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

This decision will also affect the neighbor state of Idaho, which will hold a drawing for a single grizzly tag for the fall hunting season. Montana decided against holding a grizzly season this year.

Grizzly Bear

Wyoming’s decision is bound to send ripples across the state, which will affect everything from the ecological landscape to the citizens.

The Eastman family has lived and hunted Wyoming for over 60 years.

During that time, Guy Eastman, of Eastmans’ Hunting Journal, has seen a once scarce population of bears, relegated to the confines of Yellowstone, expand beyond the park borders thanks to decades of federal protection.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Eastman said.

After speaking with several conservation officers, Eastman said the methods for counting the bears are very limited. This means there could be up to 1,400 grizzlies roaming the mountains, instead of the predicted 700.

Eastman understands some people don’t want to see bears killed, but the harsh reality is, bear and human conflicts often result in euthanized bears. And as the grizzlies push their boundaries to areas they haven’t lived in for decades, human conflicts are on the rise.

Eastman thinks it is a far better plan to have hunters pay for the opportunity to hunt, further funding the conservation effort, instead of taxpayer money going toward euthanasia programs.

“The bears have been getting killed and (the season) is just changing who pulls the trigger,” he said. “To send a wildlife agent in a helicopter to shoot a bear is expensive, but now they can make revenue off of it.”

According to Eastman, there seems to be an outside perception that Wyoming citizens just want to kill the grizzlies without any respect for the animals, or their successful return. A perception he said couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I think the hunting public in Wyoming likes having the bear around, but we want to manage it. I haven’t met anyone who wants to kill all of them. People like having them around; it’s an iconic species for the West and for Wyoming”

onX team member, Bridger Miller, has lived and hunted in his home state of Wyoming his whole life, and sees delisting the bears as a major success for the states involved.

“It’s something to take pride in. I think Montana and Idaho have done a great job too. I think it’s even more impressive that everyone is working together,” he said. He went on to say the hunt can be a great opportunity for sportsmen and women to prove they can help successfully manage the species.

Miller is also impressed with the amount of public comment the state is seeking before making such a monumental decision and says the state’s transparency is a big step in winning over anyone hesitant to support the hunt.

Miller is looking forward to the vote and the long odds of drawing a grizzly tag when he applies.

“It’s surreal to me,” he said. “I’ve been around it my whole life and now they’re talking about a season.

Follow onX Hunt on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with Wyoming’s grizzly season decision, as well as all other grizzly-related news in the Rocky Mountains.

Written by Cavan Williams