Bruscino is the Wyoming Game and Fish Department statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section.
He was part of a panel comprised of state and federal officials and one outfitter.
“I’m optimistic — knock on wood — that we’re going to move this thing forward in the next 12 to 14 months,” Bruscino said.
Whitebark pine has declined by 90 percent in some areas of the northern Rockies.
Bruscino said he hopes the service will issue a delisting rule saying whitebark pine is not a major obstacle in the grizzly’s recovery.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead supports delisting, said Steve Ferrell, policy adviser to the governor and former Game and Fish Department director.
Two years ago, the governor sent a letter to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar saying the population was recovered. Mead is expecting a delisting rule by April 2014, Ferrell said.
Salazar wrote to Mead last summer and said he was expecting a report in 2014 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service analyzing the effects of decreasing whitebark on grizzlies.
“All participants agreed that the Yellowstone grizzly population was recovered and that declines in whitebark pine do not threaten the future of the grizzly population,” said Salazar in July 2012.
Most in the scientific community do not believe whitebark will cause a major impact in the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Area, Bruscino said.
Grizzlies eat whitebark nuts when available and switch to other foods in whitebark bust years, such as young ungulates and truffles, Bruscino said. Truffles are a sort of wild potato.
“They (grizzlies) live in a lot of places where there is no whitebark pine,” Bruscino said.
Scientists don’t know what the future holds for whitebark or the decline of native fish and ungulates, but, “we think the bear will be fine,” said Dan Tyers, U.S. Forest Service grizzly coordinator.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service likely will issue a draft delisting rule in 2014 followed by a final rule in late 2014 or early 2015, Bruscino said.
If people or groups disagree with the rule, they can challenge delisting in court, Bruscino said.
An audience member asked what are signs the grizzly bear recovery area is at carrying capacity.
Some bears would have less body fat due to food competition, and subordinate bears would be pushed out of good habitat by older bears, resulting in increased bear-human conflicts, Bruscino said.
BJ Hill, a Jackson outfitter, said he has problems with older grizzlies entering his hunting camps.
Hunting could be used to reduce conflict bears. Hunting pressure could be directed in the front country where the problem bears are at to reduce conflicts, Bruscino said.
Environmentalists hold Yellowstone and Grand Teton park bears in very high regard, Hill said.
One of Hill’s examples was grizzly bear No. 399, one of the most photographed grizzly bears in Grand Teton National Park.
“Grand Teton, it’s the celebrity status that is going to make delisting an issue,” Hill said.
There were an estimated 610 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area in 2012, under the current counting model, but that is a conservative estimate. The actual number could be 20 percent higher than that, Bruscino said.
Hill said he believes there are 1,500 to 2,000 grizzlies in the GYA.
“I think that’s high,” Bruscino said.
With delisting would come hunting.
The quota would be low the first year. What is important is to remove all the wolf and bear hunting hype, Bruscino said.
The population will be monitored. “It’s not a free fall,” Tyers said.
If there is any indication the population is declining, hunting will be the first thing to go, Bruscino said.
The Game and Fish has done all the grizzly recovery work in Wyoming. It can successfully manage the bear as a big game animal into the future if it is delisted, Bruscino said.