Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials currently have "no intent" to allow grizzly hunting on National Park Service lands if the bruins are removed from the Endangered Species List.
Dan Thompson, supervisor of the department's large carnivore section, told the Traveler on Monday that while it's too early to say how the state's hunting regulations might turn out if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delists grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, "right now there’s no intent to hunt" either in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway or on inholdings located within Grand Teton National Park. When the parkway was created, hunting was not prohibited.
The iconic species has made an incredible comeback in the past four decades, growing from fewer than 150 individuals in 1975 in the more than 34,000-acre ecosystem that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks as well as the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, to nearly 700. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have based their delisting proposal, which could be finalized by year's end or early in 2017, on an estimated population of 674 bears within the ecosystem, and set a minimum acceptable population of 500 bears.
But concerns arising from those numbers and how they might change in the future, as well as uncertainty of how the states will manage the bears outside the parks and Rockefeller Parkway, have left the behind-the-scenes work open to much criticism and concern.
To help guide delisting, a map of the GYE has been drawn up with four circles on it: 1) An inner red circle that designates the Primary Conservation Area, or PCA, that includes Yellowstone but also some areas outside the park; 2) a larger black circle that designates the Demographic Monitoring Area, or DMA, in which Fish and Wildlife would aim to maintain a recovered population of grizzlies; 3) gray shaded circles that designate grizzly bear distribution in the ecosystem in 2014, and; 4) a dark blue circle that outlines the distinct grizzly population within the Greater Yellowstone Area, or GYA.
The Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee on November 16 voted 18-1, with Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk voicing the lone objection, to approve a conservation strategy hammered out between the Fish and Wildlife Service and officials from Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
The conservation strategy, which has not been released for public review and comment, does not discuss hunting in the parkway or within Grand Teton's borders on inholdings, according to those who attended the November 16 meeting, and a memorandum of understanding signed by the three states regarding grizzly bear management also is silent on those issues.
If the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to delist grizzly bears in the ecosystem from the ESA, and that decision withstands any court challenges, "we will be developing those harvest regulations and hunt area boundaries over the upcoming months," Mr. Thompson said, adding that Wyoming officials are aware of Park Service concerns about hunting too close to park boundaries and could craft hunting areas to direct hunters "into areas more suitable for harvest."