The presence of mountain lions, bears, and wolves on the landscape—not to mention on someone’s wall or in their freezer—is fraught with conflict. Folks spend decades thinking about, working on, and advocating for policies relating to these critters, most of which only fan the flames.
This week, the Wyoming legislature has an opportunity to turn down the heat.
Wyoming Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) introduced two pieces of legislation that will uphold the hunting of bears, lions, and wolves, by changing their classification in state law and adding these species to the state’s wanton waste laws.
If these bills pass, it will be due to the hard work of hunters, anglers, and trappers who work in the legislature—and many who don’t.
Wyoming state statute and regulations from their state wildlife agency have categorized and called its large carnivores “trophy game” for the last several decades. That title, along with a lax requirement that hunters only need to pack out the heads and hides of “trophy game” animals, contributes to the perception of large carnivore hunters as elitist, unethical, and wasteful. A 2019 survey conducted on behalf of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, suggests 84% of Americans support hunting for meat, while only 29% support hunting for a “trophy.”
When species like these are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, similar laws have been held up as examples of why delisting shouldn’t occur. Reframing the conversation in the legislature, and in the state statute, will help folks better recognize hunters’ motives for pursuing large carnivores.
“As a die-hard black bear hunter, I think the biggest disservice we have done to black bear hunting in Wyoming is not requiring folks to take out the meat,” President of the American Bear Foundation and Cody resident Joe Kondelis said. “I chase black bears around the state to fill my freezer with sustainable, free-range protein and my pantry with bear grease. It’s a shame to leave any usable piece of these animals in the field.”
There are two bills in this legislative package. One of them (HB0217) would change statutory language regarding “trophy” animals to “large carnivores,” and the other (HB0247) subjects these large carnivores to Wyoming’s wanton waste laws.
“These bills proactively reform our state’s laws with regards to large carnivores—which are never easy decisions to make,” Government Affairs Director for Wyoming Wildlife Federation Jessi Johnson said. “By crafting and advocating for this legislation, we’re taking a step in the right direction on large carnivore hunting; one that will help protect the right to hunt long into the future.”
If you’re a hunter who chases wolves, lions, or bears in Wyoming, don’t worry. These bills wouldn’t cause substantive changes for hunters in the field. Instead, they represent an important shift in how the law views these animals. By amending Wyoming’s state statute to reflect the respect that hunters have for these animals, the state legislature can send a signal to the rest of the country—including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which still maintains jurisdiction over federally endangered grizzly bears in Wyoming—about the value of these species.
While fixing some of these issues in statute will not delist wolves or grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act, this legislation will help craft a more ethical approach to large carnivore hunting in Wyoming. It’s a step forward in the right direction.
“This is all about making sure that our statutes reflect the same respect for these large carnivores as hunters do,” Johnson said. “It’s certainly not about forcing someone to eat a wolf.”
The American Bear Foundation, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Wyoming State Trappers Association, Boone & Crockett Club, Pope & Young Club, Muley Fanatic Foundation, Wild Sheep Foundation, Wyoming Outdoorsmen, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, HOWL For Wildlife, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Dallas Safari Club of Wyoming, Bowhunters of Wyoming, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, and Houston Safari Club all support this effort.
“Moving bills like these through the legislature require hunters like us to make our voices heard,” MeatEater’s own Ryan Callaghan said. “If you live in, or hunt in, the state of Wyoming, make a call to the legislature and ask them to get their name onto both of these.”
If you live in Wyoming, call your Representative and your Senator and ask them to support HB0217 and HB0247. Remember to be respectful, clearly articulate your points, and give them a clear ask. When you’re calling up your state legislator, it’s much more likely that you can get them on the phone. That can be intimidating, but the Cowboy State has a citizen legislature, so their Senators and Representatives are ranchers, insurance salespeople, grocery clerks, and, at least in this case, fellow hunters.
“The best way to ensure these species persist on the landscape is to harvest them sustainably," Cal continued. “A well-managed hunt, with public buy-in, will help ensure the future of science-informed management and continued funding for conservation efforts on their behalf. These bills point in the right direction, by modernizing wildlife policy.”