Over the last few years, anti-predator sentiment has flared across the American West, and legislators have loosened hunting restrictions for wolves and black bears. Now, some hunters want grizzlies to be next.
The proposal to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species list was first put forward in 2021. Five Republican senators introduced a bill to strip the grizzly of its federal protections. At the time, it was looking like grizzly numbers had recovered to previous, healthy levels. Ranchers wanted to be able to take down aggressive grizzlies if they felt their cattle were threatened. Hunters wanted the opportunity to shoot the bear, both for sport and for meat.
This past December, Montana took the latest step in paving the way for a grizzly hunting season: the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) released a grizzly management plan in anticipation of the bear getting dropped from the endangered species list. The move has kickstarted a new wave of legal action and advocacy from bear proponents—including some who were previously on the fence about delisting.
The issue, these advocates argue, is that a lot changed in the past few years. Montana, for one, has seen a flurry of new anti-predator legislation. A 2021 bill made it legal to use neck snares on gray wolves. Another let Montana trappers chase down black bears using packs of hounds. And in Idaho, legislators expanded permissions to kill wolf pups in their dens.
Wyoming and Wisconsin have passed similar bills. As a result, Wisconsin’s wolf population was decimated over the course of a three-day hunt in 2021. Then, one-fifth of Yellowstone’s wolves were killed in a single season when it became legal to hunt along the national park’s borders. This has set back wolf conservation efforts by years if not decades.
Now that this data is in, some prominent bear biologists have started to speak out against the delisting measure, fearing that grizzly populations could suffer the same way wolves have. But the anti-grizzly contingent isn’t slowing down. Idaho representatives are currently pushing for a Congressional decision on delisting, and Montana is working to update its legislation around large-carnivore hunting, possibly in preparation.
With so much federal pressure, we can likely expect to see a decision on grizzlies this year, and with it, the potential for sweeping change in large-carnivore conservation across the U.S.