Volume 2, Number 1 - April 4, 2002
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Grizzlies, wolves declared "unacceptable" in the county
Sublette County Commissioners unanimously voted to pass a resolution determining that grizzly bears and gray wolves are "economically and socially unacceptable species in Sublette County."
The resolution deemed these species to be threats to the public health, safety and livelihoods of citizens of the county. The commission took action after hearing from about a dozen local cattlemen from throughout the county.
Green River Valley Cattlemens Association member Albert Sommers led the cattlemen’s contingent at the commission meeting Tuesday, saying that the newly approved state management plan for grizzlies "has led to a plan in which Sublette County’s citizens had virtually no voice in determining where grizzlies should or should not exist within the county," and provides even less protection to livestock producers than provisions in effect now, while the species is federally protected.
That plan calls all of northwestern Wyoming "biologically suitable and socially acceptable" for grizzlies, but many Sublette County residents disagree with this determination.
Although Sommers requested the commission enact strong resolutions similar to those passed by Fremont and Lincoln counties, Sublette County’s elected officials declined such action. The Fremont and Lincoln resolutions prohibit the "presence, introduction or reintroduction" of either species within the boundaries of those counties.
Sublette County officials intend to maintain this "unacceptable" habitat declaration until public hearing and input within the boundaries of the county so that the views of residents can be heard on exactly where, if anywhere, in the county acceptable habitat exists, they said.
Sommers is not new to the whole grizzly issue, being involved in management issues for more than a decade; suffering livestock losses which have more than doubled since grizzly numbers increased on mountain allotments in the early 1990s; and having served on a tri-state governors-appointed committee to examine the federal grizzly conservation strategy. Yet Tuesday was the first time Sommers had ever been granted the opportunity to speak on the issue within his own county at a public forum, because the public hearing process has always excluded Sublette County.
Sommers told the commissioners that they should consider how to answer a series of questions: Is it acceptable to have grizzlies at Fremont Lake and at the Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps within the county?; Is it okay for the last migratory sheep flocks in the Wyoming Range to "go away" because grizzlies are allowed to increase their range and density to inhabit this mountain range?; Should elk herds be allowed to be decimated because wolves run them off their feedgrounds, placing the animals in smaller areas at lower elevations in conflict with cattle?; and Should the livestock industry survive in Sublette County?
Sommers said negative impacts are already being felt from both grizzlies and wolves in the county.
Daniel rancher Charles Price was critical of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as being an agency out of control. Price served on the citizens group charged with drafting the state grizzly bear management plan, but said the final version of the plan didn’t allow for input from this area. The meetings were held in Gillette, Sheridan, Jackson and Casper, "but not here" where we already have grizzlies. Price said county residents had "no voice’ in the final version of the plan.
Price cautioned the commissioners that "the baggage the bear brings along with it is pretty high," such as the U. S. Forest Service-proposed-food-storage-regulations which could see a person receive a fine "for leaving a potato chip on a picnic table."
Sommers pointed out that the regulations aren’t designed to protect humans, but are imposed strictly to protect the bears.
Commissioner Gordon Johnston said, "I hear what you’re saying guys," but compared outlawing these species from the boundaries of the county as shoveling sand against the tide.
Johnston said, " I live in the real world and there is no way that we can prohibit grizzly bears from within the boundaries of Sublette County." As for the cattlemen’s request to declare the county to be "socially unacceptable habitat," Johnston said, "I can sure go along with that."
Commissioner Betty Fear agreed with Johnston. But Boulder rancher Mark Jones urged the commission to use stronger language in its resolution.
"Let’s make a wave, if that’s what it takes," Jones said.
Big Piney rancher Dan Budd pointed out that Fear and Johnston wouldn’t enact a resolution similar to those of Fremont and Lincoln counties because these resolutions couldn’t be enforced.
"I listened and while I agree that possibly the wording in the (other counties’ resolutions) is strong and unaccomplishable, theoretically, where is the teeth in yours?" Budd said. "I think that it may be impossible to go out and accomplish and remove those bears and wolves, but what you do is socially acceptable or socially not acceptable. It’s a connotation of words. Either you mean it or you don’t."
Budd said while the provisions of such a strong statement might not be able to be accomplished on the ground, "at least you’ve made a statement."
In the end, the commission went with the "economically and socially unacceptable" language, and agreed to get the word out to agencies and other officials about their position on the issue. The commission also agreed to work with other counties in having public meetings on these issues within western Wyoming communities.
In similar news, the Park County Commissioners joined in the fray of counties protesting wolf and grizzly presence in their counties. The commission voted to strongly urge the federal government to remove these species from federal protection and let state officials take over management authority. Both species were declared by Park County officials to pose "a constant and stressful threat" to citizens of the county.
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