Coalition threatens lawsuit over new grizzly law

By Joy Ufford

Pinedale Roundup

Via Wyoming News Exchange

PINEDALE – A conservation coalition is threatening to sue Wyoming over its new grizzly-hunt law, signed by the governor on Feb. 15, that outlines the scenario for a grizzly bear-hunting season and relocations of captured bears to California and other states. 

Specifically, the new law authorizes Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to manage the bears and if needed, plan a grizzly hunt to protect wildlife and humans. Grizzlies killed a local Wyoming hunting guide during a big-game hunt last year. 

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population was removed from, and then returned to, federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Montana District Judge Dana Christensen ordered Wyoming Game and Fish to cancel its 2018 GYE grizzly bear hunt just before it was to begin last October. 

State and federal officials argue the GYE grizzly has been recovered under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery criteria since 2003, with more than 700 estimated in the GYE. Wyoming committed to maintain 600 bears as a buffer against the recovery population of 500 bears. They are appealing the Montana judge’s decision in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

In this 65th Legislative Session, Wyoming legislators crafted Senate File 93, which was passed by the House and signed as Enrolled Act 11 by new Gov. Mark Gordon on Feb. 15. Companion Joint Resolution of support for GYE grizzly delisting is also on its way to Gordon’s desk. 

The coalition of Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and the Humane Society of the U.S. announced on Feb. 20 it intends to sue Wyoming Game and Fish and the Commission over the state’s violation of federal law.

Wyoming’s new law states that the GYE grizzly has been recovered since 2003 due to state and citizen efforts and that the Montana court’s ruling prevents the state from protecting its citizens and wildlife “particularly in light of grizzly bear attacks on workers and other citizens and tourists of the state.” 

It also “hinders the state’s ability to work with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to cooperate in the management” of GYE grizzlies. It continues, if the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission determines a grizzly-bear hunt would benefit wildlife management and public safety, “it may conduct a grizzly bear hunt and shall issue licenses” under state laws for the commission to set a hunting season. 

The new law also provides the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission with the authority, if determined necessary, to proceed with relocation of captured bears outside Wyoming to California, states with grizzly bear numbers below the ESA threshold or for GYE grizzlies that might be moved or euthanized “to other willing states with suitable habitat.”