Among the crowd of people in Missoula for Thursday’s grizzly bear court hearing, Diedre Bainbridge and Judy Hoffland brought their own bear.
The two Jackson Hole, Wyoming, residents also brought the news that one member of their organization, Shoot 'Em With A Camera, had won two of Wyoming’s 22 grizzly bear hunting licenses for this fall. If U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen allows Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzlies to remain under state management, they intend to forestall trophy hunters for up to 20 of Wyoming’s 60-day grizzly season in its most bear-concentrated hunting grounds.
Toting a big stuffed teddy bear and lots of logo caps at Tuesday’s rally of grizzly protection advocates, Bainbridge and Hoffland said their group formed in response to Wyoming’s rushed attempt to restore grizzly hunting.
“This has nothing to do with science,” Bainbridge said. “It’s all politics. And we’re very much opposed to predators being controlled by anti-predator commissions.”
Hoffland added Shoot 'Em With a Camera represents the Wyoming population that doesn’t hunt. The group formed in Jackson Hole, but attracted attention from around the world when it campaigned to swamp the state license lottery process with non-hunter applications.
That led to founding member Kelly Mayor landing one and wildlife photographer Tom Mangleson picking up a second. Both have pledged to use their hunting opportunities protecting bears instead of killing them.
“We will have 20 of the 60 days where no bears will be killed,” Bainbridge said. “And buying the tags makes us consumptive users. That gives us more say at the table where wildlife is managed.”
Both Wyoming residents paid $600 plus fees for their permits. Out-of-state residents would have had to pay $6,000 plus fees.
“There’s been a lot of loud, aggressive voices getting their way,” Hoffland said. “More moderate voices aren’t getting heard. Buying licenses was a way of giving those people something they could do to participate.”
The tactic has dismayed some hunting organizations that favored delisting grizzlies. Cody-based Western Bear Foundation Director Joe Kondelis called Shoot 'Em With A Camera’s move a publicity stunt.
“There’s people that laugh about it, and some people that are frustrated with them taking an opportunity from a sportsman,” Kondelis said. “Essentially, sportsmen have paid the bill for grizzly recovery for the last 40 years. We do a lot of stuff to keep grizzlies on the landscape and spend a lot of money on reducing grizzly conflict. People who take pictures of bears just sell the pictures for profit.”
Grizzly bears were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1975, after agricultural settlement, government-supported eradication efforts and state predator policies had reduced them to a few hundred animals on 2 percent of their historical range in the Lower 48 states. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem recovered in 2017, allowing them to be transferred to state management. That decision was challenged by six lawsuits, all of which may get decided at Thursday’s court session in Missoula.
Despite the legal challenges, Wyoming wildlife officials approved their first grizzly bear hunt in 44 years in May, followed by Idaho in July. Montana’s Fish and Game Commission opted to skip a 2018 grizzly season and postponed further debate until sometime after Thursday’s federal court hearing. Through a tri-state agreement, Idaho is allowed to hunt one grizzly bear in 2018.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department divided its grizzly hunt into two areas with slightly different formats. No hunting is allowed in the core habitat comprising Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the Wind River Indian Reservation and some connecting landscape around them. A buffer zone outside that called Demographic Monitoring Area does allow hunting, and has the most restrictive rules.
Only one hunter at a time can pursue grizzlies in the more sensitive area, until one sow is killed. If that threshold is reached, the whole hunt ends for the season. Otherwise, each hunter in succession gets 10 days to kill a bear. If a hunter kills a bear, the 10-day clock restarts. That makes it possible that the 60-day season will end without all 11 tag-holders getting a chance to enter the field.
The second area has looser rules. Grizzlies killed there don’t count toward the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s mortality quota. Wyoming offered 11 permits to kill grizzlies in that outer zone. Those areas have no female kill threshold and the hunt will not stop until the quota is reached or the season ends on Nov. 15.