Wyoming’s crusade to declare open season on grizzly bears hit an unprecedented low this week when Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law a statute that gives state officials the authority to open a trophy hunting season on grizzly bears and relocate bears to other states without federal authorization. The move from Wyoming comes in defiance of a federal court ruling last year, in response to a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States and our allies, that restored Endangered Species Act protections to grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Today, we and our allies once again put the state on notice that we are ready and willing to take any legal action necessary if Wyoming officials attempt to open a trophy hunt.
At one level, the bill that Gov. Gordon signed into law yesterday may be seen as a stunt meant to appease trophy hunters. State lawmakers know that a hunt in Wyoming would be in defiance of federal law, because grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the supreme law of the land protecting species at risk of extinction. One of the bill’s sponsors, state Senator Eli Bebout, admitted as much when he explained that state officials would be made into “convicted felons” if they follow through with a hunt.
Even so, we cannot take this new threat lightly, because Wyoming has a history of making desperate attempts to allow hunters from around the world to shoot its grizzly bears. The state was on the verge of holding the first trophy hunting season for grizzlies in decades last fall, and only an eleventh-hour injunction won by the HSUS and our partners stopped what would have been the needless slaughter of 23 bears in that first season alone. That reprieve was extended when we subsequently won the ruling putting Wyoming’s bears back on the federal list of threatened species.
The Greater Yellowstone bear population is already troubled by an array of threats to survival, each directly or indirectly tied to human activity. The bears’ primary plant and animal food sources are disappearing due to climate change and as they are forced to range further from their core habitat areas in search of food, they are increasingly drawn into conflict with livestock operations. These conflicts inevitably prompt calls for lethal removals of grizzly bears, further exacerbating pressures on their population. Bears also routinely wander beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where killing bears is prohibited. In their encounters with humans since January 2015, 209 bears have died directly because of actions by poachers, cattle ranchers, and elk hunters, and via automobile accidents. This represents record levels of human-caused bear mortality. The number also does not include bears killed illegally by poachers, which, according to scientific studies, is considerable.
By passing a bill that authorizes state employees to violate federal law, and by signing it into law, Wyoming’s lawmakers and Gov. Gordon have established themselves as outliers with no regard for their own precious wildlife. But they are also wasting taxpayer resources and time that could be better spent on dealing with real problems the state and its citizens face. Wyoming’s grizzly bears belong to all Americans, and we will pursue every legal avenue to ensure that the state’s lawmakers do not wipe them out of existence.