Grizzly Bears: Teton County faces moment of truth

Hunt grizzlies or protect them?

Allowing WGFD to have a trophy hunt of grizzly bears in Teton County does not reflect our community’s values nor serve our best interests

Last year before grizzlies were delisted Wyoming Game & Fish spokesperson Renny McKay said “Whenever the grizzlies come off [the Endangered Species List], it means the management of bears is led by people who live closest to the wildlife and by people impacted by the wildlife.”

With all of Grand Teton National Park and 40% of Yellowstone National Park within Teton County’s boundaries it would be difficult to argue that anybody is closer to or more impacted by grizzly bears than the residents of Teton County.

WG&F has been very careful to say that no decision has been made on hunting grizzlies, but nobody we know actually believes them when they say this.

And why not? Because the business model of WG&F is almost completely based on hunting.


The reality is the Wyoming legislature allocates very little funding to WG&F so they have little choice but to operate as a de facto business entity.

WG&F doesn’t manage wildlife for the sake of the environment or for biodiversity or natural balance. Those don’t pay their bills.

WG&F’s revenue comes from a wide variety of hunting licenses. But saying “they sell hunting licenses” is a bit of an abstraction; their real product is game animals, the kind you can hunt.

WG&F manages for game animal abundance because that is where their revenue comes from. THAT is what pays their bills.

So of course WG&F is going to hunt grizzlies. That is what they do: like any business they provide product to their paying customers in the most efficient and cost effective way they can. Grizzlies are simply an expansion of their product line.

Quite simply, the WG&F shouldn’t be viewed as a government agency serving all the citizens of Wyoming. It should be viewed as a government-owned business serving a narrow customer base: hunters, fishers, and outfitters.

And once you understand that paradigm, everything that seems askew about WG&F falls right into place.


Many WG&F programs defy current scientific knowledge. These programs, such as feedgrounds, predator control, wildlife disease control, and conflict management all make sense within a business paradigm because these programs are all actually focused on maintaining marketable quantities of game.

And while these programs benefit WG&F, any benefits Teton County receives from them are marginal. In fact, as we and others have argued elsewhere, many of them are detrimental to Teton County’s interests. Teton County’s interests simply are not aligned with those of WG&F.

And that brings us to grizzly bears.

In Teton County we are facing a moment of truth. Do we allow trophy hunting of the iconic symbol of the wild that is still recovering from the brink of regional extinction, or do we protect them? And who decides? Wyoming Game & Fish, or us?


There is neither a biological nor ecological justification for hunting grizzlies here. They aren’t overpopulated nor overcrowded. They aren’t starving, nor are they depopulating any other species.

Nor is there a scientific basis for the argument that hunting grizzlies makes them scared of humans. A grizzly that has been shot by a hunter isn’t scared, it’s just dead. Or worse, it’s a wounded bear wandering the same woods as we do.

Nor is there a scientific basis for the argument that hunting grizzlies increases “social tolerance” for them. But even if there was, that is irrelevant because Teton County has proven itself the most grizzly-tolerant community in the Greater Yellowstone region.

Nor is there a scientific basis for hunting grizzlies in Teton County for the purpose of reducing conflicts. Look at the conflict maps produced by bear managers and what is most striking is how few conflicts actually occur in Teton County compared to other areas with grizzlies.

In contrast to the above, there is a simple yet very profound scientific justification for not hunting grizzlies: after decades largely absent from the landscape, they are again performing their ecological functions in dynamic equilibrium with other species. That’s huge.


Over 3 million people a year visit Teton County. They come from all over and they spend over a billion dollars annually.

Tourism in Wyoming is $3.2 billion industry. Teton County alone generates $1.02 billion, one third of the state’s tourism total.

Travel and tourism is a potent economic engine for Teton County, and wildlife fuels it. Other places have beautiful mountains, forests and rivers. But wildlife is what makes us unique. In marketing terms, wildlife is our brand.

Our business community has also taken a strong stand on hunting grizzlies in Teton County. The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, representing nearly 1,000 local businesses, in a letter to WGFD said:

“We are thrilled that grizzly bears have returned in meaningful numbers.”

“Trophy hunting [of grizzlies] could potentially impact our tourism economy that is highly dependent on wildlife watching opportunities.”

“Hunting should be avoided in areas adjacent to our national parks.”

And let’s highlight that due to its orientation and the fact that national parks alone represent 45% of the county, the entire county is adjacent to our national parks.


Wildlife is central to our local culture, and it is largely because of our wildlife-centric culture that millions visit Teton County every year.

For nearly a century, we have fostered a culture of conservation and protection. Of stewardship for the wild. Giants of conservation lived here and fought tooth-and-nail to protect this landscape. To many this is sanctified land. Why? Not so much because we cared for it, protected it, and preserved it, but mainly because we still do.

Across the planet people are aware of this and they respond to it by visiting Teton County by the millions.


In Teton County science, economics, and culture align in opposition to hunting grizzly bears.

But ultimately this is a very simple risk/reward calculation. On one hand, hunting grizzlies will bring little benefit to our county. On the other hand, bad publicity surrounding a hunt would have major repercussions and damage Teton County’s reputation, potentially for years to come.

And due to our considerable contributions to Wyoming’s economy, that damage will ripple across the state impacting jobs, incomes, taxes, quality of life, you name it.

So make no mistake, the decision to hunt grizzlies in Teton County is a very big deal.

The decision to hunt grizzly bears shouldn’t be left to WG&F to decide because their interests do not align with ours. Teton County needs to stand up to WG&F and tell them in no uncertain terms: in Teton County we don’t hunt grizzlies…we protect them!

Remember what WG&F spokesperson McKay said? “Whenever the grizzlies come off [the list], it means the management of bears is led by people who live closest to the wildlife and by people impacted by the wildlife.”

That’s us. This is our decision to make.

Kent Nelson
Founder and Board Chair
Wyoming Wildlife Advocates

What can you do?
Please call or write your elected representatives and give them this message: “In Teton County we don’t hunt grizzly bears, we protect them!” Tell them your vote depends on it!

Make sure your friends and family realize that it is only a matter of time before WGFD authorizes trophy hunting of grizzlies in Teton County. We need to stop them before it even starts!

GoFundMe Campaign
WWA has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help support our campaign to prevent trophy hunting of Teton County’s grizzly bears. This campaign will be long, hard…and likely expensive.

Click this link to contribute: GoFundMe: Teton County: We Protect Grizzlies!