Despite strong opposition from anti-hunting groups, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved the 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt.
After experiencing rapid population growth and meeting recovery goals while protected under the Endangered Species Act, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service delisted the Greater Yellowstone population of grizzly bears in 2017. Though it's possible that a lawsuit could eventually derail things at the last minute, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has formally decided to have a 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt.
With this decision, Wyoming will join Idaho this fall in offering the first opportunities to hunt grizzly bears in the Continental United States in over 44 years.
WFGD published a draft of the proposed hunting regulations on their website and took public comment on the matter for several months. Additionally, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission held several public meetings across the state in order to give people a chance to voice their opinion on the proposed 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt.
So how will the hunt go down?
People interested in participating in the 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt will have from July 2-16 to apply online. Application fees will be $5 for residents and $15 for nonresidents. Nonresidents will be allocated up to 25% of available bear tags.
WGFD will randomly place all interested hunters on a list and offer tags to the first ten hunters on the list. If selected, hunters must purchase a grizzly bear tag ($600 for residents and $6,000 for nonresidents) in order to hunt.
Those selected will be assigned a specific 10 day period of the grizzly bear season that they can hunt during an overall season lasting from 15 September to 15 November.
The 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt doesn't permit any hunting within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, or the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. It also would also prohibit grizzly bear hunting within 1/4 mile of certain roads inside Hunting Areas 1-6, as well as certain designated areas where wildlife viewing is popular.
No hunter will be permitted to harvest a grizzly bear cub or a female grizzly bear with cubs present. No hunter may use traps, snares, dogs, or hunt with the aid of radio telemetry equipment. No hunter may use bait in Hunting Areas 1-6, either.
Additionally, the regulations also have a number of safeguards to ensure hunters don't harvest too many bears and put the recovery of the population in jeopardy.
For instance, the majority of the grizzly bears in Wyoming live in northwest part of the state in what's known as the "Demographic Monitoring Area." Hunting Areas 1-6 on the map below roughly encompass a large portion of that area. The regulations for the 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt permit a total harvest of up to 10 bears within Hunting Areas 1-6.
Each hunting area also has a specific harvest limit: two bears for Hunting Area 1, one bear for Hunting Area 2, two bears for Hunting Area 3, three bears for Hunting Area 4, three bears for Hunting Area 5 and two bears for Hunting Area 6.
A total of 12 bears may be harvested in Hunting Area 7. However, most of this area is outside of the core grizzly bear population distribution at this time.
Since this area is outside of their core distribution and mainly consists of marginal grizzly bear habitat, human-bear conflicts are more common in that part of the state. For that reason, the 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt is being utilized as a tool to help reduce future conflicts with bears in that area with the goal of increasing tolerance of the bears among the local population.
Grizzly bear hunting shall close in each individual hunting area when the quota is reached for that unit. To ensure that WGFD closes hunting in each individual hunting area or in the state as a whole at the appropriate time, all hunters must must report their harvests to WGFD within 24 hours.
All grizzly hunting shall cease when one of the following happens: the total female quota (of 1) is reached, the total male quota (of 10) is reached in hunting areas 1-6, or on November 15, whichever comes first.
As long as WGFD determines that none of the conditions for ending the grizzly bear hunt have been met, it'll continue to issue tags to hunters according to their order on the list.
However, the season will close immediately if any of those conditions are met. Of particular importance is the female grizzly bear mortality limit of one.
That means that the 2018 Wyoming grizzly bear hunt will end as soon as a hunter kills a female bear, even if that is the first bear killed during the hunt.
Like I said earlier, it's possible that a judge could halt this hunt at the last minutes (and there are already multiple lawsuits pending in court).
However, it appears as though Wyoming has developed a well-thought out plan for managing their grizzly population in a manner that will reduce future human-bear conflicts in the state and generate valuable revenue for conservation efforts, while at the same time not negatively impacting the long term health of the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population.