From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 28 - October 10, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

No prosecution in Wyoming Range grizzly death

by Cat Urbigkit

U.S. Attorney Matt Mead has declined to prosecute a man who killed a federally protected grizzly bear in the Wyoming Range.

Mead said Bill Stewart of LaBarge reacted when the bear came after him, adding that Stewart killed an animal federal officials would have ordered killed anyway.

Mead said that in August, U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services officials responded to a report of a bear killing a number of sheep in the Deadman Creek allotment area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, in the Wyoming Range.

"It was believed to be a black bear doing the killing," Mead said. Stewart was recruited by state and federal wildlife officials to help locate the bear, using his hounds.

Mead said Stewart reportedly took two sets of dogs into the area and was accompanied by Steve Moyles of Wildlife Services when one set of dogs apparently treed the bear. Mead said it's his understanding that when Stewart called the dogs off, the bear came at Stewart. Stewart shot the bear, then shot it a second time "to make sure he was dead," Mead said. Once the bear was dead, Moyles and Stewart realized it was a grizzly and immediately contacted other officials to report the incident.

Mead said two factors were involved in his decision not to federally prosecute Stewart: "The bear was coming after them, after Stewart," Mead said. In addition, based on the killing of domestic sheep in the area, Mead said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "could have and would have" issued an order for the bear to be killed. Mead emphasized that Stewart wasn't acting alone, but had in fact been requested to assist wildlife officials in resolving a bear problem. Mead said it's his understanding that Stewart has assisted wildlife officials on other occasions as well.

The killing of a grizzly in the Wyoming Range proved that the species had expanded its range further south than previously acknowledged. The incident was the first official agency confirmation of a grizzly in the Wyoming Range in about a decade. It occurred within the boundary of the Greys River Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northern Lincoln County, and the agency claimed it was "some 30 miles south" of the current documented grizzly bear range.

Wildlife Services state director Rod Krischke said in an earlier interview that when the bear charged Stewart, "He just had to react ... at very close range, 10 to 15 feet."

Wyoming Game and Fish Department investigator Fred Herbel confirmed that the adult male grizzly killed in the Wyoming Range was known to the agency from years past. In 1999, the bear was captured as a sub-adult in the Buffalo Valley area as a research bear and radio-collared. The agency lost contact with the bear in 2001.

The state Grizzly Bear Management Plan, recently adopted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, calls for grizzlies to occupy the Wyoming Range, but the state plan won't take effect until the bear is removed from federal protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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