G&F official predicts grizzly proposal will be released in weeks

By Lew Freedman Cody Enterprise Via Wyoming News Exchange

CODY — A top Game and Fish official has predicted that a departmental grizzly bear management proposal featuring hunting will be made public within “the next couple of weeks.”
Speaking as part of a public Facebook talk on Tuesday, Brian Nesvik, Wyoming’s chief game warden, said the step after that will be a hearing in front of the G&F Commission in Casper on May 23.
The agency arranged an hour-long Facebook session to react to and review findings from a recent series of public discussions sprinkled around the state.
Nesvik, Dan Thompson, the large carnivore supervisor based in Lander, and Renny MacKay, the department’s chief communications official, participated.
Thompson characterized the public sessions, which included one in Cody that attracted about 200 people, as “respectful and courteous” despite strong feelings expressed pro and con on hunting as part of the master management program.
“People are very passionate about grizzly bears,” Thompson said.
Since the Yellowstone grizzly was removed from Endangered Species Act protection by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service last July and management returned to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Wyoming Game and Fish authorities have been hammering out a plan to preserve the long-term health of the species.
The most controversial aspect of management talks has been whether or not it is appropriate to include hunting as an element of population control.
Game and Fish received hundreds of suggestions from people attending the meetings, covering a range of topics.
Despite massive educational efforts, including through the Bearwise informational meetings conducted all over the state, Thompson said, there is a clear demand for more educational programs.
“We took that to heart,” he said.
What previously has been a part-time coordinator of the Bearwise activities has already been made a full-time job.
People asked about the best methods to protect themselves in grizzly country and the department endorses bear spray, more so than guns as the most effective tool, Nesvik said.
However, officials did not say a discouraging word about handguns, instead saying people should do what they thought they should to protect themselves in the wild.
Wyoming has monitored bears for years, Thompson said, and will continue to do so. People at the meetings urged the department to incorporate public sightings of grizzlies into their reports and Thompson said “There are already plans in progress” to do so.
Also, methods are being explored to produce more accurate population counts of grizzlies.
During various hearings in the months leading up to the Fish and Wildlife change, figures ranged from 600 to 1,200 bears in the area.
“There’s something we’re working on now,” Thompson said, that could offer more precise counts.
Those at meetings also expressed concern about the frequency of human versus bear conflicts, whether they are over livestock or personal confrontations.
Nesvik cited the idea of installing an electrified fence around the Park County Regional Landfill as one conflict avoidance suggestion.
“Our goal is to maintain grizzlies on the landscape,” Thompson said. “But also making a living on the landscape.”
The number of comments made at public meetings or directly to the department touched on education, monitoring, bear numbers, hunting tags and dates.
But the topic brought up most frequently was grizzly hunting.
“Hunting is probably the most contentious issue,” Thompson said.
People are “very much in favor of it or very much opposed.”
Noting Alaska has both bear hunting and large numbers of tourists who view wildlife, officials said they do not think arguments are valid that killing bears also kills tourism.
“I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive,” Nesvisk said.


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