From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 42 - January 13, 2005
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Grizzly proposal examined

by Cat Urbigkit

Although the Sublette County Commission recently renewed its declaration that Sublette County is not socially acceptable grizzly bear habitat, forwarded that statement to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the Fremont County Commissioners did the same, Hot Springs County officials have chosen another tactic.

Last week, the Hot Springs County Board of County Commissioners submitted a detailed letter of comment on the proposal for grizzly bear occupancy in Wyoming.

The letter notes that the commission believes that delisting of the grizzly bear should be initiated in 2005, so the commission conditionally approved the WG&F draft, provided specific changes are made and problem areas addressed.

The letter proclaims that the county commission "insists herein that Hot Springs County has a direct constitutional authority to act on matters of health, safety and the general well-being of persons within the county."

The commission stated, "With a current estimated population of 680 grizzly bears, the philosophy of allowing the grizzly bear to re-establish and occupy the entire Greater Yellowstone Area appears to be unwarranted."

The commission requested that "in order to justify the resources sacrificed for expansion of grizzly bear occupancy outside the Primary Conservation Area," WG&F should define a maximum population number for the inner boundary of the PCA, basing that number on the average annual grizzly bear carrying capacity of the PCA.

In addition, the commission wrote: "It is imperative to define those areas where the grizzly bear is not socially acceptable and provide a mechanism to prevent grizzly bear occupancy of those areas. Data and science show that a 6.5 percent or greater human-caused mortality can be sustained without causing a population decline. We believe that limiting documented human-caused mortality to the proposed 4 percent will cause a continuous migration of grizzly bears from the PCA ... and exacerbate the already unacceptable amount of bear/human conflict."

The letter stated: "While it may seem trite, regardless of viewpoint regarding the degree to which grizzly bears and humans can co-exist, there are no conflicts, property damage or injuries due to grizzly bears where there are no grizzly bears. Conversely, conflicts occur where humans and grizzly bears occupy the same area. If territory occupied by grizzly bears expands, then more and more bears will occupy privately owned or operated lands, and conflicts on those lands will increase ... Since conflict cannot be totally avoided, it will be necessary to minimize the area where bears and humans are forced to coexist. The bears have been given considerable primacy within the PCA."

The commission stated that it believes the plan allows for the reintroduction of the grizzly bear onto private property and onto property of the state, counties and towns from which it had been legally removed at considerable expense, "that property having been kept 'grizzly bear free' for decades following bear eradication," constitutes a real and significant threat to the health, safety and welfare of the owners and operators, and severely conflicts with the established custom and culture of the area.

The commission wrote: "The term 'socially acceptable' needs to be defined by more than the visceral 'we don't want 'em' that some of our constituents have communicated. In order to be 'socially acceptable' the grizzly bear and its management must not infringe on the constitutional rights of the county, its citizens and other human beings. We hold that the needs of a grizzly bear population are secondary to mankind. Delisting from protection under the ESA supports that position. The human population must be healthy in order to apply its husbandry to the bear. Our citizens must be able to earn a living, recreate and live in safety and security from harm or danger. Our citizens have the right to be free from the threat of harm or danger."

The letter continued: "As a society, we have promulgated laws and we enforce penalties on lawbreakers. We have laws that protect persons from being threatened by others. The plethora of grizzly bear facts and statistics published since 2000 demonstrate that, where the grizzly bear ranges, there is an expectation of property damage and injury to people. The threat is universal and ubiquitous. Wherever, within our physical jurisdiction, the presence of the grizzly bear carries the threat of harm or damage to the health, safety or general welfare, including the right and ability to earn a living from public lands, then the grizzly bear is not socially acceptable."

The commission's letter also detailed the negative economic impact expected to the local economy from grizzly bear occupancy, as well as concern for wildlife populations, should management decisions continue to favor grizzlies over other uses, even after delisting occurs, as the county fears will occur.

The commission also expressed concern for the burden put on livestock producers, when there are a variety of costs associated with bear damage that is not compensated.

The letter stated, "To impose these costs on the human population beyond what is absolutely necessary to keep the grizzly bear from being re-listed is arguably an unwarranted burden on the populace."

Although WG&F's proposal calls for limiting grizzly occupancy on private land, the Hot Springs County board noted, "a parallel position to protect the rights of users of public lands outside the primary conservation area has not been made. We argue that coexistence of grizzly bears and humans cannot be without conflict and that these conflicts will severely hamper the quality of life and economic well-being of those who use public lands outside the PCA. The defining elements of 'socially acceptable' are not limited only to private lands, but extend to public multiple-use lands."

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