Hunting grizzlies to control population

Posted 11/26/10

Although Bruscino advocates hunting grizzlies, he and the department support the population's thriving recovery 100 percent, he said.

The latest count is 603 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In 1975, grizzly bears were given …

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Hunting grizzlies to control population


With more than 600 grizzly bears inhabiting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one state official backs hunting the bear to manage the population in Wyoming.“Excellent shape,” said Mark Bruscino, Wyoming Game and Fish Department bear management program supervisor, when asked how grizzly bears were doing in northwest Wyoming.

Although Bruscino advocates hunting grizzlies, he and the department support the population's thriving recovery 100 percent, he said.

The latest count is 603 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

In 1975, grizzly bears were given federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states.

There were an estimated 180 to 220 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem at the time, Bruscino said.

Bruscino calls the bear's resurgence the greatest wildlife conservation success story in the last 100 years.

Grizzlies are the slowest-reproducing mammal on the American continent, yet they are expanding in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by an average of 4 to 7 percent annually, Bruscino said.

This year, 15 sows in the ecosystem had one cub, 23 had twins, 12 had triplets and one mother had quadruplets in tow, said Dennie Hammer, department public information specialist in Cody.

It's a record year for cubs, Bruscino said.

As of Oct. 26, there were 47 known grizzly mortalities in the area: 41 human caused mortalities, three from natural causes and three deaths from unknown causes, Bruscino said.

Quality grizzly habitat is full, Bruscino said.

“There is beginning to be a lot of bears in areas where they're not likely to succeed,” Bruscino said.

Grizzly redistribution

This year, 50 misbehaving grizzlies were relocated in Wyoming. Thirteen grizzly bears underwent management action — 11 were killed and two wound up in zoos, Bruscino said.

Grizzlies causing trouble are regularly transferred from the Teton County area to the Park County area habitat and vice-versa.

But releasing a grizzly in already occupied bear habitat does not necessarily increase bear density in that stretch of habitat. Bears will naturally redistribute themselves to make room for others. For example, other bears will give a dominant male grizzly a wide berth, Bruscino said.

There is constant natural redistribution, Hammer said.

Bears are expanding into locations with multiple human use, such as small farms and ranches or subdivisions where it will be difficult for grizzlies to survive, Bruscino said.

Even when humans take precautions such as installing bear-proof dumpsters or keeping sheds locked, bears find a way. Grizzlies have very dexterous front paws, and the bears are strong and smart.

“Development is not usually good for bears or other wildlife,” Bruscino said. “It's just too complicated for them to survive in. They need big, wide-open country.”

Grizzlies fare better on larger ranches where they have room to roam. There is surprisingly little human-bear conflict on large ranches, Bruscino said.

Therefore, the promotion of sustainable agriculture is crucial to providing all wildlife with space and to reduce bear-human conflicts, he added.

Bruscino and his crew may be busy relocating problem bears, but he said big agricultural producers contribute considerably to grizzly and other wildlife conservation.

“It has been my experience that the agricultural community has been very tolerant of these animals (bears),” Bruscino said.

“We are at a point in Wyoming where we would like to stabilize the population (by hunting them), but under current Endangered Species Act protections, we can't do that,” Bruscino said.

First, the bruins must be delisted, Bruscino said.

The department is waiting to see if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's appeal of U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's September 2009 decision to place grizzlies back on the Endangered Species list is granted. Fish and Wildlife is the federal agency in charge of managing grizzlies.

It could take the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals 18 to 24 months to decide whether to uphold or overturn Molloy's decision, or to accept portions of Fish and Wildlife and/or Molloy's recommendations, Bruscino said.

Grizzly hunting?

Bruscino said he favors hunting grizzlies as soon as the law allows it.

Grizzlies are the subject of much controversy, but managing the bears like other big game would ease a lot of the controversy, Bruscino said.

If hunting permits are issued, the hunting community will support the grizzly population because they will become stakeholders, Bruscino said.

“The best thing we can do for long term bear management is get them delisted, treat them as a game animal and manage them like any other wildlife species,” Bruscino said.

Grizzly bears are here to stay at least in the foreseeable future.

“I can't guarantee grizzly bears will be around in 1,000 years,” Bruscino said, “but I can guarantee they'll be around in 100 years.”

Allowing the population to grow unchecked is a disservice to grizzlies, because more bears will leave prime grizzly habitat and be relocated or euthanized because they get into trouble, he added.