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Delisting grizzly bear looks likely

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering removing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List. Some favor and some oppose delisting. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering removing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List. Some favor and some oppose delisting. Photo courtesy Rennett Stowe

Bear hunts possible by 2017

As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decides whether to remove Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) grizzly bears from federal protections next year, there are various perspectives from proponents and opponents.

Even if delisting procedures move forward without a hitch, it would be 2017 before the bears could be hunted in Wyoming.

Fish & Wildlife believes that the Yellowstone grizzly population is biologically recovered and is considering whether to move forward with a delisting proposal, said Serena Baker, Fish & Wildlife Mountain-Prairie Region 6 public affairs specialist in Lakewood, Colorado.

“We continue to work with states, tribes and other partners to ensure that a robust conservation plan is in place to maintain a recovered grizzly bear population in the absence of ESA (Endangered Species Act) protections,” Baker said.

The estimated GYE grizzly population increased from 136 in 1975 to 674 to 839 in 2014, according to the National Park Service.

A proposed delisting would only affect the Yellowstone grizzly bear population, Baker said. “Any proposed delisting would include opportunities for public comment and peer review prior to a final decision. We will only delist this population if we have a very high level of confidence that the population will remain recovered and never again need ESA protections.”

Politics?

“This decision is clearly driven by political expediency, not the sound science that has made the Endangered Species Act so successful,” said Bonnie Rice, Sierra Club Greater Yellowstone/Northern Rockies senior campaign representative in Bozeman, Montana.

Population growth has slowed in recent years inside the Demographic Management Area (DMA). In the 1990s, the population was growing at 4 to 7 percent yearly. In the last decade it has been 0.3 to 2 percent annual growth.

“Politics have no place in wildlife management,” Baker said. “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service relies on the best available science in making decisions, including the potential delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.”

Grizzlies are expanding outside the DMA, indicating carrying capacity has been reached and there is a surplus of grizzlies, said Brian Nesvik, Wyoming Game and Fish Department chief of the Wildlife Division.

Decades-long recovery

“It has taken 40 years of ESA protections and considerable investment to recover the grizzly population to where it is today,” Rice said. “Allowing the Yellowstone grizzly population to be reduced by over 100 bears would seriously undermine that progress and threaten true recovery, and is unacceptable.”

Nesvik said he doesn’t believe a total of 100 grizzlies would be killed annually in all three DMA states.

Even if 100 grizzlies were removed annually through hunting and other deaths, the population would continue to produce offspring, said Renny MacKay, Game and Fish communications director.

The Yellowstone grizzly bear population suffers from increasingly fragmented and disconnected habitats, according to a report recently released by the Endangered Species Coalition. Without wildlife corridors, migration routes, and other connected habitat, grizzly bears cannot continue to reproduce, find food, disperse, and maintain enough diversity in their populations to survive into the future.

“You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that declining population, loss of food sources, and isolation from other bears are threats to the long-term survival of the Yellowstone grizzly,” said Sylvia Fallon, Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist in Washington, D.C. “Yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is poised to remove these bears from the Endangered Species list, an action that would likely leave the population isolated forever.”

“Recovery is based on more than just the number of bears in the ecosystem. It depends upon a combination of factors including quantity and quality of habitat, adequate regulatory mechanisms, and a good balance of male and female bears that are well-distributed throughout the ecosystem,” Baker said. 

Mortality limits

Fish & Wildlife considers 600 bears to be the lower limit at which there is no management and discretionary mortality is no longer allowable, Baker said. “The goal would be to manage for approximately 674 grizzly bears to ensure a sustainable and resilient population that utilizes the entire available habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We do not anticipate population numbers to dip down to 600 bears.”

The state of Wyoming has discussed mortality limits with Fish and Wildlife, Nesvik said.

Mortality limits are based on the population average from 2002-14 inside the DMA, which is essentially grizzly habitat across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in northeast Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Nesvik said.

• With 600-674 grizzlies, mortality limits would be 7.6 percent for adult females and 15 percent for adult males, MacKay said.

• At 675-747, mortality limits would be 9 percent for adult females and 20 percent for adult males, Nesvik said.

• With more than 747 grizzlies, it would be 10 percent for adult females and 22 percent for adult males, Nesvik said.

The above numbers only apply in the DMA, Nesvik said. Grizzlies outside the DMA wouldn’t be counted.

Assuming the delisting process happens, which takes one year, hunting in Wyoming wouldn’t begin until 2017, if OK’d by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. However, Nesvik said he doesn’t know if the commission would authorize hunting.

According to Section 4 of the ESA, downlisting or delisting the species may occur if threats have been determined to be eliminated or sufficiently reduced. First, a proposed rule would need to be published in the Federal Register for review and comment by other federal agencies, state biologists and the public, as well as the advice of independent species experts. After analyzing the comments, Fish and Wildlife would respond to them and announce its final decision in the Federal Register, either completing the final rule or withdrawing the action and maintaining the current species’ status.

The commission would have to weigh seasons, quotas and pubic input prior to making a decision, MacKay said.

Game and Fish management would probably recommend grizzly hunting to the commission. If there is a season, it’s unknown what the quota would be. “Suffice it to say it would be a very conservative number,” Nesvik said.

It would probably be some sort of drawing, Nesvik said.

State law requires licenses would be $600 for residents and $6,000 for non-residents, MacKay said.

The cost of delisting

There’s no estimate on how much it would cost taxpayers if a decision to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear were litigated, Baker said.

According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region defended 23 lawsuits relating to the ESA filed by conservation groups between fiscal years 2009-12, at a cost of $1.87 million in attorney fees, Baker said. Not all ESA lawsuits are filed by conservation groups. Private land owners, pro-development interests, and states are a few of the other entities.

“No group receives federal funding to file lawsuits,” Baker said. “The courts can award costs to a party who prevails against the federal government. The Department of Justice has authority for negotiating fee claims.”

“We’re spending $1.9 million right now per year,” Nesvik said. For the last 40 years, Wyoming hunters have contributed $40 million in license fees, or 80 percent of the funding for grizzly recovery efforts.

Track record

Game and Fish can manage grizzlies, officials said.

There are more black bears and mountain lions now in Wyoming because of Game and Fish management efforts, MacKay said.

“You can look at our track record with large carnivores and it’s pretty darn strong,” Nesvik said.

Mike Hirsch of Powell killed the first wolf in Wyoming on opening day in 2012 after the canine was temporarily delisted. Human-bear conflicts would cease, if grizzlies feared being shot by hunters.

“Let’s hunt them,” Hirsch said. “I believe it’s our state’s right to manage them.”

“To remain viable, this population of grizzlies need a secure future with a diversity of food sources and an effective plan to help people and bears avoid conflicts,” Fallon said. “And, above all, the bears need the freedom to roam so they can maintain genetic diversity by breeding with other grizzly bear populations found to the north and west.”

4 comments

  • posted by Michael D. Hirsch

    December 22, 2015 7:19 am

    to mr. Robert H. Aland
    Addressing your 8 replies.
    1). We live in the year 2015 - not 1975. Times change carrying capacities of wild animals.
    2). Politics play a huge role in trophy big game status predators at all levels of Government.
    3). I agree with you on this point but please remove all the wolves first and then there can be more grizzlies in the GYES. Another USFW plan gone bad.
    4,5, &6). A reasonable plan for management must be agreed upon by all groups who can prove they have provided research on grizzlies.
    7). I enjoy recreation on public lands by camping out and exploring wilderness areas. I have not left a gut pile on public land for over 13 years and never have I ever lost any edible portions of elk, deer, moose sheep to a grizzly. I take many pictures also. Please look into the Wyoming State Statues as those laws should supercede the federal law (ESA)that has been crammed down out throats.
    8). Grizzly bears are icons of the West and by taking 5-10 male bears out of the GYES every other year will not hurt the population but only enhance it through population variance.
    My final question to you is "Are you a true Wyoming Resident".?

  • posted by Barry Baudains

    December 18, 2015 3:36 pm

    Please don't delist the beautiful grizzly bear it is not an animal that warrants being a trophy for killers.

  • posted by Barry Baudains

    December 18, 2015 3:18 pm

    Don't destroy any more beautiful animals just to give the Head hunters a trophy to stick on there wall.

  • posted by Robert H. Aland

    December 17, 2015 12:22 pm

    The article is filled with erroneous information:
    1. Serena Baker, the US Fish & Wildlife Service representative, states that "the Yellowstone grizzly population is biologically recovered." Not true. There were 100,000 in the continental US at one time. When they were given Endangered Species Act protection in 1975, only about 1,000 remained with only 150 - 300 or fewer in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Today the number in the GYE might be 600 - 700, but there has not been, and cannot be, an accurate count. That small number clearly is not recovery,
    2. Baker, the FWS representative, says that "politics have no place in wildlife management." She is right in principle; wrong in practice. Politics is playing a huge role in the grizzly delisting. Perhaps Baker is not familiar with (a) Governor Matt Mead's May 2012 letter to then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar requesting a new effort (after losing the first effort in litigation) to delist the bears; (b) Secretary Salazar's affirmative response in July 2012 to Governor Mead; or (b) FWS Director Ashe's recent repeated meetings with the Governors of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming with regard to delisting. In fact, the entire delisting process has been contaminated by politics.
    3. Brian Nesvik of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department says that the carrying capacity of the GYE for grizzlies has been reached. Wrong. The GYE comprises about 35,000 square miles and certainly can support many more than 600 - 700 bears according to experts.
    4. Nesvik says that he "doesn't know if the [Wyoming Game & Fish Commission] would authorize hunting [of grizzlies]" even if hunting is recommended by the WGF&D. Wrong. Trophy hunting of the great bears will be permitted. Nesvik should take the time to read the "management plans" adopted by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming with regard to the previous (unsuccessful) effort to delist the bears.
    5. Nesvik says that Wyoming has spent $1.9 million per year for grizzly management. That figure, which also is mentioned in Governor Mead's May 2012 letter to Secretary Salazar, is seriously overstated as indicated by WGF&D documents made public under the Wyoming Public Records Act.
    6. Nesvik says that "Wyoming hunters have contributed $40 million in license fees, or 80% of the funding for grizzly recovery efforts." He conveniently fails to mention that substantially more dollars are contributed to Wyoming's economy by those who prefer to "shoot" grizzlies and other Wyoming wildlife with cameras and binoculars. Studies have shown that wildlife viewers make greater contributions to Wyoming's economy than hunters.
    7. Mike Hirsch, identified as a resident of Powell, wants to kill grizzlies to teach them to fear humans and not have conflicts. Has Hirsch considered that the same goal might be achieved if hunters would avoid known grizzly habitat and not leave gut piles and other attractants in that habitat? Hirsch also says that "it's [Wyoming's] state's right to manage [grizzlies]." Where does he find "state's right" as delisting criterion in the ESA?
    8. Grizzly bears, icons of American history, were almost completely extirpated when they were given ESA protection in 1975. The process of restoring the great bears is still in its early stages. The great bears do not deserve to be killed as trophies to adorn family room walls or floors. They do deserve continued protection and preservation.

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