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June 25, 2013 7:54 am

EDITORIAL: Time to delist grizzlies — and to be bear aware

Written by Ilene Olson

Two grizzly encounters by locals in as many weeks — an attack on a man irrigating on the South Fork last week and a near-miss in a Forest Service campground on the North Fork June 6 — underscore the increasing need to be bear aware as the grizzly population continues to grow.

Those incidents add to the list of grizzly attacks on humans in recent years, some of which were fatal. Combined with continued conflicts involving grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, they illustrate what many have said for years: It’s time to delist the grizzly and turn its management over to the states.

Mark Bruscino, who recently retired as Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section, has stated repeatedly that the grizzly population has recovered and is thriving.

When the grizzly bear was put on the Endangered Species List in the 1970s, fewer than 100 grizzlies existed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As of November, the ecosystem’s grizzly population was estimated at 608 — and that number is conservative, biased on the low side by at least 100, Bruscino said.

“This population is doing incredibly well,” he said in November.

But repeated lawsuits have kept the bruin on the Endangered Species List, setting grizzlies on a collision course with humans, their animals and their property. The latest guess is that the bears will be delisted next year.

Grizzlies have large territories, and as the population increases, subordinate animals are pushed out farther and farther to the edges — to places like the North and South Forks of the Shoshone and even to the Heart Mountain area.

Grizzlies were trapped and removed from the Heart Mountain area one time during each of the past two summers. A grizzly was spotted on Heart Mountain during the community hike on June 8, and Carrie Peters of the Nature Conservancy-Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve said there has been a lot of grizzly bear activity in the area this spring, even in farm fields around the Heart Mountain Canal.

Those are places where most of us never think to carry bear spray, but that needs to change.

As the number of grizzlies continues to escalate, so do the number of conflicts. When bears get into trouble on one side of Yellowstone, they often are trapped and moved to another area. It seems that federal and state wildlife agency employees spend much of their summers swapping bears from the Jackson-Dubois area to the North Fork, and vice versa.

It’s time to take grizzlies off the endangered list and provide more management tools to states like Wyoming. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department has proven it has the experience and expertise to manage the population well.

Once delisted, tools to manage the grizzly population could include hunting, though quotas likely would remain low. Besides managing the population, hunting likely would change the bears’ behavior as well. It would prompt them to stay farther from areas inhabited by humans, and that would be a benefit to grizzlies and humans alike.

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