By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – After a period of scientific review and public comment, wildlife officials in Wyoming and Idaho are preparing for the first grizzly bear hunting season in over four decades.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on May 23 unanimously approved a fall hunting proposal to harvest 22 grizzlies. This decision came just weeks after the Idaho Fish and Game Commission also approved a grizzly season in which only one male may be harvested.
Montana officials considered opening up grizzly bear hunting in the state as well. However, the commission determined not to allow hunting in 2018 due to a limited number of harvestable bears. Based on the number of grizzlies found throughout the Greater Yellowstone, Montana could have harvested one female and six males.
“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” said Martha Williams, the director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in a February statement.
In 2017, the Greater Yellowstone’s grizzlies were removed from the Endangered Species List. At the time, biologists from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team estimated there were 718 bears in the ecosystem and federal management of the species was transferred back into the hands of the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Despite a number of lawsuits against the delisting, state officials have been directed to proceed with developing management plans that entertain the possibility of hunting as a management tool.
However, according to Toby Boudreau, assistant chief of wildlife for Idaho, the approved hunts could be canceled depending upon court decisions later this year.
“There’s a lot of unknowns with grizzly bear hunting, especially with litigation,” he said. “Ultimately, I think that it’s just a huge success story that we should be celebrating. … The best thing about, even the concept of a grizzly bear hunt, means that we were successful in recovering a species.”
Only Idaho residents will be eligible to apply for the random draw tag to hunt a single grizzly bear, an opportunity that Boudreau says is once-in-a-lifetime. The application period is June 15 through July 15, with the season running from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15.
Boudreau said biologists will work with the successful applicant to ensure the hunter can appropriately identify a grizzly bear and distinguish male bears from females.
Representatives for Wyoming Game and Fish were unable to provide comment by EBS press time on June 6; however, according to the department website, hunting regulations have been adopted but will not become effective until Gov. Matt Mead has signed and approved them.