Trouble’s A-Bruin: Hunting would help deal with Wyoming’s aggressive grizzlies, say outdoor enthusiasts

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By Mark Heinz, outdoor journalist
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Wyoming needs a grizzly bear hunting season to promote human safety and bear conservation.

That’s the message from outdoor enthusiasts at Cowboy State who say responsible bruin hunting is good wildlife management.

The Wyoming Grizzly hunt has been overdue for two decades, retired forester and longtime sportsman Karl Brauneis of Lander said in an email Friday to the Cowboy State Daily.

“I testified before the Wyoming Wildlife Commission that the grizzly bear was recovered about 20 years ago and we should have allowed a hunting season then,” he said.

The situation has also made bears less fearful of encroaching on humans and more populated areas, another outdoorsman said. This can make bears fearless and aggressive towards people.

“The Wyoming grizzly is not conditioned to know there’s something else out there to be careful of,” Josh Coursey told the Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

Coursey is an experienced hunter who lives about 20 miles north of Kemmerer near the Wyoming mountain range. He said he and others have seen grizzly bears and signs of grizzly bears in these mountains for the past two years.

It’s an area “well south” of established bruin habitat in Wyoming, he said.

Coursey is co-founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, a mule deer conservation group. He is also a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force, a group responsible for making recommendations to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, which sets game and fishing policy.

Earlier this year, the task force voted “unanimously” to recommend that grizzly bear management be turned over to Game and Fish, which could set hunting seasons for them, Coursey said.

‘Unusually aggressive’ grizzly

Game and Fish sent out an alert Thursday that grizzly bears and black bears have become more active at lower elevations in rural areas around Cody. This could increase the risk of conflicts with landowners and outdoor enthusiasts.

Wardens have occasionally had to kill grizzly bears because of human-bear conflict, which is not unique to Wyoming.

On September 21, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks rangers killed an “unusually aggressive” grizzly bear, according to a report published online by the agency.

The bear was killed after charging, hitting and biting a landowner’s vehicle on a two-lane farm road near Bynum, Montana.

Gunshots are “dinner bells” for grizzly bears

Grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho remain under the protection of federal endangered species law.

That the species remains listed as endangered is a “travesty,” Coursey said. He said he thinks the state Game and Fisheries Department is much better qualified to handle bruins.

Coursey recently returned from a successful elk hunt in the Wind River Mountains. He and his hunting partner saw black bears, but no grizzly bears. Even so, whenever in grizzly bear country, hunters should be aware and careful, he said.

“When you come back from a hunt, you have to hang your meat on a meat pole well away from where you set up camp,” he said.

Especially in northwest Wyoming, the potential for conflict between grizzly bears and hunters is a constant and growing threat, he said.

“When you kill something at dusk, you might have to let the carcass hang overnight,” he said. “When you come back in the morning, there may be grizzlies feasting on your prey. This shot became a dinner bell for them.

Coursey said he’s optimistic Wyoming will eventually get grizzly bear hunting season, and that he’d “absolutely” like to hunt bears if and when that happens.

“Ecological stalemate”

Perpetually keeping grizzlies under ESA protection amounts to “single-species management” instead of considering the entire ecosystem, Brauneis said.

“As a forester, I am convinced that the management of a single species, if prolonged, ends at the expense of the whole ecosystem in which the species reside,” he said. “Aldo Leopold first recognized this fact over a century ago in the management of deer herds. Monospecific management is an ecological dead end.

Keeping a recovering species under ESA protection should be a “short step” on the road to state management, he said. And the grizzly’s recovery was successful.

Coursey agreed, saying ESA protection has long since accomplished what it needed for Wyoming’s grizzlies, and it’s time to move on.

“The grizzly bear should be the poster child for the success of the Endangered Species Act,” he said.

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