Battle over bears begins tonight at the Virg

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Ahead of tonight’s Game and Fish (WGFD) meeting on grizzly bears, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates today announced a full-on awareness campaign aimed straight at the state department and how they plan to move forward managing grizzlies now that the bear no longer enjoys endangered species protection.

“We want to stop this before it even gets started” said WWA board chair Kent Nelson, referring to the possibility that a trophy hunting season on grizzly bears could be in the near future for the Jackson Hole area. “Hunting grizzlies in Teton County makes no sense. It provides too little benefit to the county and exposes us to too much economic risk.”

WGFD officials have made no public declarations concerning grizzlies. The department’s large carnivore management section leader out of Lander, Dan Thompson, said tonight’s open house is one of many scheduled, statewide, in an intel-gathering effort to learn about the concerns of Wyoming citizens.

“How would the public like to see its grizzly bears managed? That’s the kind of information we are trying to gather tonight,” Thompson. “We understand the divisiveness of the issue and the wide spectrum of opinions. It’s a major part of why we are doing this outreach before any decisions are made.”

Nelson has heard Game and Fish officials when they say there is no hunt imminent or in the works, his group is just not buying it.

“Everyone in the conservation community believes that’s just PR posturing and a grizzly hunt is inevitable.”

WWA’s executive director Roger Hayden agrees.

“That’s the business they’re in” Hayden said. “And make no mistake, given that the Wyoming Legislature allocates very little funding to WGF, it’s run as a business. They have to sell hunting licenses to make ends meet. Delisted grizzlies are an opportunity to expand into a new product line, while at the same time hunting grizzlies protects elk and deer, their biggest revenue generators, from predation. It’s a big win-win for their business model, so of course they’re going to do it.”

Groups like WWA point to the economic impact travel and tourism (especially tourism with the intent to view wildlife) has on the region.

A letter from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce dated April 28, 2016 congratulates WGFD on its efforts to help the grizzly bear population recover, but urged the agency to be mindful of the economic value the species represents and to consider “management options that include significantly reduced or no trophy hunting in and around Jackson Hole.”

The letter, addressed to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, was co-signed by then-president Jeff Golightly and board chair Julie Faupel. It read, in part: “Trophy hunting of bears is controversial to some potential tourists both nationally and internationally. In the Jackson Hole region, trophy hunting could potentially impact our tourism economy that is highly dependent on wildlife watching opportunities.”

Tonight’s open house will take place at the Virginian Lodge at 6pm.

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