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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Regardless of whether the latest effort to delist grizzly bears succeeds, there’s no doubt about the overwhelming demand for grizzly hunting tags, veteran bear hunter Guy Eastman of Powell said.
“Absolutely,” he told Cowboy State Daily when asked if he intends to put in for one of the coveted hunting tags, should grizzlies be delisted.
“Me and probably 10,000 of my other friends,” he added with a chuckle.
He’s the editor-in-chief of Eastmans’ Publishing Inc., a Powell-based media company that specializes in stories and videos about fair chase Western big game trophy hunting. He’s been on several grizzly hunts in Alaska and Canada, and said it’s no easy endeavor because grizzlies are among the most intelligent animals there are.
“They are like the monkeys of North America,” Eastman said.
‘Like Charlie Brown Trying To Kick The Football’
He said he’s cautiously hopeful about Gov. Mark Gordon’s recently-announced plan to delist grizzly bears.
If successful, it’s set to take effect after a year-long research and comment period.
Some Wyoming outfitters said it might be too early to tell whether this delisting effort will succeed.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” outfitter and Park County commissioner Lee Livingston told Cowboy State Daily. “I have seen the delisting shot down twice in my career.”
Sy Gilliland, President of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, said he and many other guides are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Nobody is out there trying to sell grizzly hunts,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
“We are dealing with an administration (of President Joe Biden) at the highest level that is not going to look favorably upon delisting the bear,” he said.
“It’s kind of like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and Lucy keeps pulling it out from under him,” Gilliland added, referencing the reoccurring gag in the “Peanuts” comic strip. “We’re not trying to kick the football anymore.”
Protected Since 1975
Grizzlies were once common throughout the Western U.S., but by the 1970s, they’d been diminished to just a scant few, mostly inside Yellowstone Park. In 1975, grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area were placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and their population has grown steadily ever since.
There have been previous efforts to delist them. Most recently, in 2018, it looked as if delisting would go through, and Wyoming scheduled a grizzly hunting season. However, that was halted by a federal court order, and the bruins have remained under ESA protection.
Management Most Important
Gordon’s delisting plan hinges upon solid evidence that there are roughly 1,000 grizzlies living in the Greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The governor’s office claims that is more than enough to warrant removing them from the federal protection through the ESA.
Gilliland gave Gordon credit for what could be the best strategy yet for getting grizzlies delisted and managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“I think the strategy that the governor has employed this time is actually genius,” he said. “He’s basically taken a page out of the radical greens’ playbook by basically filing a lawsuit.”
He added that outfitters in Wyoming are “used to operating in grizzly country and taking steps to make sure that we and our clients are safe,” so little will change in that sense, regardless of whether grizzlies are delisted.
Livingston agreed that the if grizzly hunting tags are issued, there will be only a scant few of them. Game and Fish finally having full management of the bruins is more important, he said.
“I’m probably more interested in seeing the delisting move forward from a management standpoint than a hunting/outfitting standpoint,” he said. “It will create some guiding opportunities, but they will be limited.”
Eastman agreed that state management would be best. The Wyoming Game and Fish is the best game management agency in the Western U.S., he said, and should be more than capable of conserving a healthy population of grizzlies.
Eastman, Livingston and Gilliland all agreed that the delisting of grizzlies in Wyoming is years overdue.
Eastman added that sportsmen have contributed $50 million or more toward the conservation of grizzly bears through the cost of hunting tags for other species and taxes on firearms and ammunition.
He said a special “governor’s tag” for a grizzly hunt in Wyoming could be auctioned off for $1 million, “and hunters would get one fiftieth of our money back.”
Hunting Could Improve Things
Eastman said grizzly hunting could change the bears’ behavior, making them more wary of humans, which in the long run could benefit both bears and humans.
“Most places I’ve been where there’s grizzlies and they’re hunted there are some instances of conflict with humans. But it is nothing … nothing like the occurrences we have here in the Yellowstone area or up around Glacier Park in Montana,” he said.
He added that keeping grizzlies under ESA protection indefinitely has also hurt the original intent of the act. It makes people too wary of placing other species, such as sage grouse, under ESA protection, because they’re worried it would never be lifted.
Not An Easy Quarry
Eastman has hunted numerous species of North American big game in several states and Canada and said grizzly hunts have been among the most challenging. That included a hard quest for a mountain grizzly in British Columbia, Canada in 2007.
Grizzly hunting has since been halted there, he said.
People might have gotten used to seeing many grizzly bears in numerous places around Wyoming, and assumed they’ll be easy to hunt. That might be true at first, but it will change quickly, Eastman said.
Once the bruins realize they’re being hunted, their uncanny intelligence will come into play, and they’ll become incredibly elusive, he said.
“It’s mostly a spot-and-stalk endeavor,” he said of grizzly hunting tactics.
That means, hunters must be prepared to cover vast amounts of territory on foot or horseback and “glass” (search through binoculars and spotting scopes) for suitable grizzlies. Once a big enough bear is spotted, it becomes a matter of stalking in close enough for a shot.
If hunting is allowed, it will be important for hunters to distinguish boars, or male bears, from sows, or females.
“Proper bear identification is going to be very critical. You should shoot only a mature, or beyond mature large boar,” Eastman said. “Guys are really going to have to take their time and learn the difference between a boar and a sow.”
With juvenile bears, that can be next to impossible. In mature adults, there can be few cues to look for, Eastman said.
“You can look at facial features, boars tend to have blockier faces,” he said. “Sows can look more fuzzy.”
There are also differences in movement.
“A mature boar grizzly will walk with a swagger, he’ll swing his shoulders,” Eastman said. “Sows tend to move with more of a shuffle.”
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