By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — People who amass medical bills because they’ve been mauled by a grizzly bear in Wyoming may soon have a pot of money to dip into to help fund their recoveries.
The idea stems from a Jackson resident and was embraced in the Wyoming Legislature by Rep. Mike Greear, R-Bighorn/Washakie, who on Tuesday introduced House Bill 135, “Hunting licenses — donation to grizzly bear attack victims.”
“It came out of conversation about, ‘How could we help somebody?’” Greear told the Jackson Hole Daily on Thursday. “I thought, ‘You know what, we could do a license donation.’ It would help pay for out-of-pocket medicals and also help them with the loss of earning. I don’t believe it would be a huge pot of money, and we would not fund it with anything from the general fund.”
The bill is still in the earliest stages and is not scheduled to go before the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee until Wednesday.
“I suspect there are going to be lots of ideas from other legislators,” Greear said, “and it’s one of those bills that I’m open to changing in any way.”
As written, House Bill 135 would give grizzly bear mauling victims 90 days to file a claim with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which would administer the fund, stocking it through voluntary donations hunters and anglers can make when buying licenses. Getting the fund up and running would cost appropriately $19,000, according to a fiscal note appended to the bill.
The legislation specifies that people injured and the kin of people killed would be eligible. Game and Fish would determine disbursements from the grizzly bear injury compensation fund based on the extent of injury, the circumstances of the attack, the need for financial aid and other factors.
People injured by other large carnivores would not be eligible.
“Right now, it’s just for grizzly bears,” Greear said.
Three Wyoming hunters reported being injured by grizzlies in 2018. The bloodshed goes both ways: People kill more than 10 grizzlies on average each year in the Greater Yellowsone Ecoystem during conflicts or by mistakenly shooting them while black bear hunting.
The 2018 fatal mauling of Jackson Hole hunting outfitter Mark Uptain, who left behind five children, partly prompted the bill, Greear said. Through the fundraising site GoFundMe.com, people crowdsourced over $210,000 for the Uptain family in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Greear said that discussions with a seasonal Jackson resident and friend got him thinking about the topic, though he declined to name the person.
Jackson Hole resident Dwayne Meadows, who leads the hunting advocacy group Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said that he thinks HB 135 is “fine,” as long as it’s funded by donations. Using taxpayer dollars for a grizzly injury compensation fund, he said, would be a dangerous, slippery slope that could shift liability onto the state.
“My sense is that there needs to be better direction by nonprofits, state agencies, etc., about how to be safe in the backcountry,” Meadows said. “The best thing you can do is to make people aware.”
The Wyoming Legislature is considering one other bill and a resolution that bear the word “grizzly” in their titles.
House Joint Resolution 1 requests that the federal government once again “swiftly delist” the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act.
Senate File 93 would authorize the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to hold a grizzly bear hunt, seemingly regardless of species’ federally protected, “threatened” classification — a status that usually precludes hunting.