Tribal leaders in Montana, the U.S. and Canada say Wyoming’s unanimous decision to hunt up to 22 grizzly bears outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks this year strikes a devastating blow to tribal communities.
On a press conference call Wednesday, tribal leaders said they were not adequately consulted about management of an animal they consider sacred.
Tom Rodgers is a lobbyist and member of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana. He called on Montana’s Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester to do what he called the right thing.
"Today we're calling upon you, our elected representatives, to demonstrate the moral courage and set aside the ego of people who would seek to hunt and kill these sacred beings. Because that's what it is. There is no glory and honor, no glory and honor, in killing a grizzly," Rodgers said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem last year, leaving Wyoming, Montana and Idaho in charge of the animals’ future management. Montana declined to institute a hunt this year. Idaho will offer a single grizzly bear tag this fall.
Brandon Sazue, Chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, said that removing protections for grizzly bears could open up treaty and traditional lands for new oil and gas development.
"Wyoming's trophy hunt is one part of the desecration of the sacred. The other will be extractive industry moving into sacred tribal lands here, now that restrictions have been lifted on land usage and leases by removing the grizzly bears' ESA status."
Sazue also worries that hunting Yellowstone area bears could affect grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering removing protections for those bears later this year.
"What you are going to end up with is, essentially, zoo populations which are genetically isolated from one another. As soon as this trophy hunt starts, that's the end of any possible linkage between those two populations," Sazue said.
Wildlife managers disagree that the hunt will threaten their goal for connectivity between Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide grizzly populations.
Sazue added that 170 tribes have signed onto a treaty that suggests relocating excess bears to tribal lands instead of using hunting as a tool for population management.
Conservationists have expressed both support and opposition to the hunt.
Some say that hunting is a necessary management tool that grows support for large carnivores. Ranchers also said hunting bears can limit cattle and livestock depredation.
Others say the grizzly population is still too delicate and poorly understood to support a hunt, and that hunting would not reduce conflicts or distribute the population.
Wyoming’s fall hunt will run from September 15 through November 15. Licenses will cost $600 for Wyoming residents and $6,000 for out-of-staters.
There are an estimated 700 bears in the area, up from 136 when grizzlies were listed as an threatened species in 1975.