JACKSON — The National Parks Conservation Association delivered a petition with nearly 33,000 signatures to Gov. Matt Mead’s office Friday, calling on him to use his executive powers to delay, or at least limit, the upcoming grizzly hunt.
Despite the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s recent decision to halve the number of permits for females in the designated hunt area adjacent to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks from two to one, the NPCA remains concerned the 23 permits proposed statewide could put the population’s future in jeopardy.
“We appreciate that Wyoming made the right decision to reduce the hunt within the designated area to one female,” said Stephanie Adams, the National Park Conservation Association’s Yellowstone program manager. “But in the larger hunt area [hunt zone 7], up to 12 females could be harvested, which could have a significant effect on the population.”
When Game and Fish released its draft rules for the new grizzly hunt in March, the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit, along with several other advocacy groups including the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society of the U.S., challenging the rules’ ability to ensure the long-term health of the grizzly bear population, particularly within Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
If Mead is unwilling to forestall the grizzly hunt until the conclusion of the rules’ legal challenge, which will be heard in federal court this summer, the National Parks Conservation Association requested that he direct Game and Fish to further limit the number of bears proposed for harvest, remove any possibility of baiting grizzly bears and expand the hunt closure area to encompass all of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Mead, however, has routinely praised the process the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Game and Fish have undergone while delisting and preparing to manage the species.
“No animal has been studied more than grizzlies,” Mead said in a C-SPAN interview May 3. “The question is not whether you hunt grizzly bears or not. The question is whether grizzly bears have grown enough in terms of population and in habitat that they can be a sustainable species. And, clearly, they have.”
He believes management by the state will be more efficient than that of the federal government.
“What some people don’t realize is that while there is now going to be a hunting season in the state of Wyoming, it’s not as if before that grizzly bears weren’t being killed,” Mead said. “They were just being killed by government managers. So I think we have a much better plan going forward understanding that grizzly bears are an important part of the ecosystem, and they are certainly important to tourism and should be part of what we celebrate in the state of Wyoming as long as Wyoming has the ability to manage them.”
Only 413 of the 33,000 signatures originated from within Wyoming. However, NPCA officials said the entire country should have a say in how grizzly bears are managed, especially those within the national parks.
“It took decades of hard work and the investment of taxpayer dollars to restore these bears to the national parks,” Adams said. “All Americans have a say in what happens to these bears in the future.”
On May 23, Game and Fish will hold a meeting in Lander to decide whether to postpone, modify or approve the hunt rules as written.