Wyoming Governor’s Petition to Remove Grizzlies From Endangered Species List Facing Backlash From Anti-Hunting Groups

by Jennifer Shea
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list, a move that he says heralds the species’ miraculous recovery. But animal rights groups are bashing the petition. They say Gordon’s claims are not based on science.

In petitioning to delist grizzlies, Wyoming joined Idaho and Montana, the Casper Star Tribune reports. Gordon’s petition makes the case that grizzlies have bounced back in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and should move from federal protection to the auspices of the state Game and Fish Department.

From Tuesday, when the petition was filed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to decide if it will conduct a comprehensive review. If it does, it will have one year to finish a status review of the species. Then it would release its recommendation.

Groups Contest Wyoming’s Counting Method

Gordon and state officials point to a steady uptick in the grizzly population since the 1970s. According to Fox News, it has increased from around 136 bears then to over 1,000 now.

“Wyoming has invested more than $52 million and dedicated countless hours of Game and Fish expertise to reach this point,” Gordon said in a statement upon filing the petition. “We’re optimistic the Service will view the petition favorably. And we look forward to working with them on delisting.”

Meanwhile, groups opposed to hunting argue that since Wyoming found a new method to count grizzly bears, the population numbers have surged. They believe state officials are overestimating the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“This outrageous request from Wyoming’s governor is the latest attack on animals like grizzly bears by states that see them as little more than targets for trophy hunters,” Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “There is no science to back the claim that grizzlies no longer need protection. Federal officials need to send a clear message by swiftly rejecting this request.”

“The grizzly bear population did not explode overnight,” Zaccardi added.

Wyoming counted 1,069 bears recently under the new counting method. It found only 727 bears in 2020.

Backlash from Some Biologists Follows

The last time the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to delist grizzlies in that area, in 2017, it met with a bevy of lawsuits, and a federal court overturned its delisting decision in 2018.

But population measurement was one of the points on which the decision was overturned. And state officials are now confident that they have answered those concerns with the new counting methods. Still, some biologists are not fully on board with the state’s plan.

“The methods contained in the [management plan] are so egregiously flawed as to call into question the competence and motives of the wildlife managers who concocted them,” grizzly biologist David Mattson wrote in a blog post.

The three states petitioning the federal government have acknowledged that they plan to allow the hunting of bears above their population targets (or “non-discretionary mortality” limits). But Mattson cautioned that male grizzly populations outside parks stand to suffer significant losses under the state’s management plan, and he said the new population estimate methods may fail to factor those losses in.

Proponents of the state’s petition argue that the grizzly population could soon outgrow its habitat’s capacity to support them, leading to conflicts between bears, among other effects.