In late June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared grizzly bears recovered and proposed removing them from the endangered species list for the second time in a decade.
Their numbers hovered just below 700 in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, a swath of land covering Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The delisting was a welcome decision for some, and a feared and criticized one for others.
Many Wyoming ranchers and hunters applauded the announcement. Grizzly bears had been recovered long enough, they said, and no longer needed federal protections. The state could adequately manage the large carnivores, including allowing a hunting season.
Environmentalists and some Native American tribes disagreed. Many conservation groups said the population isn’t recovered, and that the creatures still lack the resources they need to survive and persist.
While Wyoming had not approved a hunting season yet, it has the framework in place to implement one.
On July 31, bears were officially removed from the endangered species list. Little changed on the ground for the animals. A hunting season is still only a theoretical possibility.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department dispatched biologists and wildlife managers to various corners of the state in the fall to gauge public opinion on how grizzlies should be managed. Talks included information about hunting seasons but were not solely focused on killing.
If hunting was allowed in Wyoming, biologists said only about 10 bears would likely be killed in a hypothetical 2018 season. Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission would still need to approve any potential season, and the annual quotas would be based on the prior year’s population estimates and mortalities.
But the ability for the state to manage bears, or potentially allow people to kill them, is not a foregone conclusion.
Various groups including the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Sierra Club and The Humane Society sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in late August saying climate change and human conflicts are already putting too much pressure on the charismatic creature.
And in early December, U.S. officials said they were going to review removing protections from grizzlies because of a recent federal appeals court decision regarding wolves in the Great Lakes. The appeals court said that wildlife officials had not considered the loss of the species’ historical range in their decision to delist.
The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release its conclusions by March 31.