Idaho approves first grizzly bear hunting season in more than 40 years

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., in 2011. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to allow a grizzly bear hunt this year.
A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., in 2011. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to allow a grizzly bear hunt this year. AP

One Idaho hunter would draw a permit to shoot one grizzly bear in eastern Idaho under a hunting season approved Thursday by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

The hunt would run from Sept. 1 through Nov. 15 and the hunter who wins the draw for a residents-only controlled hunting tag won't be able to use bait or hound hunting to bag his "once in a lifetime" trophy.

Hunters can apply from June 15 through July 15. Fish and Game officials want hunters to know the hunt could get delayed or called off if grizzly advocates go to court to stop the hunt.

Fish and Game would reimburse the cost of the tag, $166.75, if that happens. But they would keep the application fee of $16.75.

The question on the minds of many hunters who attended public meetings on the grizzly hunt proposal, and commented in Idaho and Wyoming, was whether non-hunters would also be able to apply for the tag. The relatively low cost would be an attractive way to make their point.

"Anybody who has a resident hunting license can apply," said Roger Phillips, a spokesman for Fish and Game.

And they are already lining up in opposition.

“Idaho bowed to the wishes of trophy hunters who just want to gun down these magnificent grizzlies to mount a head on their walls,” said Andrea Santarsiere, of Victor, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a sad day for the many state residents who value our native wildlife and the critical role it plays in keeping wild lands in balance.”

"The proposal attracted more than 900 comments to Fish and Game’s website during the public comment period in April and earlier this month.

"Comments greatly varied, but the majority favored moving forward with a grizzly hunt," said Phillips.

Shooting one bear is not a threat to the current population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that includes Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. When I arrived in 1985 there were no more than 200.

Today, the population has grown to an estimated 718 bears. Biologists for the federal government and the three states saw the population grow steadily from 4.2 percent to 7.6 percent annually from 1983 to 2002.

But the growth slowed down after 2002 to under 2.2 percent annually, which biologists say is because the population in the core habitat in and around Yellowstone is at or near carrying capacity.

This hunting season will only be allowed in eastern Idaho where grizzly bears were removed from the threatened species list in July 2017. North Idaho still has grizzly bears in the Selkirk Mountains and the Cabinet-Yaaks near Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry. Grizzly bears there remain protected as endangered, and the hunting proposal would not change that.

“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population has been de-listed from the Endangered Species Act, and it is being managed by the Conservation Strategy and a Memorandum of Agreement agreed upon by the three states and federal agency partners," said Toby Boudreau, Fish and Game assistant wildlife bureau chief. "Hunting is an important part of conservation and consistent with those agreements.”

Meanwhile, British Columbia announced in December 2017 that it was ending grizzly hunting. The province has 15,000 grizzlies.

Wyoming is considering allowing up to 24 grizzlies to be harvested in its first season in more than 40 years. Montana decided against opening a hunt this soon.