When gray wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and the Northern Rockies, it was the start of one of the greatest conservation stories of all time. Not only did the American wolf population in the region rebound spectacularly, but the wolves had an extraordinary ripple effect on the environment.
As an apex predator, the wolves played an important role in the ecosystem. When their numbers rebounded, the surrounding environment thrived in exciting new ways as well.
Now, conservationists, park rangers, ecologists, hunters, and anyone who cares to visit Yellowstone National Park can witness another conservation success story. In 1975, there were only a handful of grizzly bear populations in the United States, with just 136 Yellowstone grizzlies remaining. After four decades of protection efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services just announced that it will officially remove Yellowstone Grizzly Bears from its endangered species list.
In an interesting twist, the only way the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can take a species off the list is for nearby states to establish formal hunting regulations for the animals. Now, officials in the region are grappling with the best way to move forward.
Already, there are plans to open up grizzly bear hunting in Wyoming starting in the fall of 2017, and public meetings between wildlife officials and hunters are in the works. Hunters haven’t been able to legally hunt grizzlies in Wyoming since the 1970s.
While there are more than 700 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone region today, the USFWS reports that there are 38 million Americans who regularly hunt and fish. The average hunter will spend $1,638 on the sport each year, not just on gear, but also on hunting permits. Wyoming has decided to charge residents $600 for a grizzly license, while non-residents would have to pay more than $6,000 for the chance to hunt the bears.
“There are components of the rule that direct the states to put things in place regarding a hunt, regardless of whether the states decide to do a hunt or not,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik. “We’re going to have to work through that.”
While it might seem counterintuitive, hunting and conservation efforts have long overlapped. Indeed, hunting advocates have donated substantial resources towards environmental and species conservation efforts around the world. Shortly after the USFWS announcement, Jon Beckmann of the Wildlife Conservation Society wrote an Op-Ed in Live Science urging states to delay grizzly hunting season, but not abolish it entirely.
“A complete hunting ban on previously protected grizzly bears (or any large carnivore, for that matter) disenfranchises hunters, who have contributed much to conservation over the past century. A more useful approach is to find a consensus on how many of these bears we ought to sustain — and where — based on rigorous, peer-reviewed science,” Beckmann wrote. “There must be a willingness to consider differing viewpoints during these decision-making processes. All sides of the debate must be willing to compromise, and all dogmatic views — e.g., all carnivore populations should be hunted; no carnivore population should ever be hunted — must be checked at the door.”
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