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Yellowstone, State Officials Clash Over Grizzly Management

Yellowstone and Grand Teton representatives were at odds with other officials at a meeting to discuss whether to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, at a meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee, representatives from both parks sparred with proponents of the measure. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this year it hoped to delist Yellowstone grizzlies by early next year and transfer management duties onto the states.

The Subcommittee was attended by officials from federal, state, county and tribal government agencies to discuss potential changes to conservation management in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. From the Chronicle:

The most controversial issues pitted top officials from Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park against nearly everyone else around the table. Among other things, Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk raised concerns about the future of population calculations, how state agencies determine the number of bears available for hunting, and where exactly those hunts would take place, all in the interest of keeping bears around for the growing number of visitors to the parks.

“Visitors have a high interest in seeing a grizzly bear in their natural environment,” Wenk said. He added that Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockerfeller Jr. Memorial Parkway make up “one of the best areas to see grizzlies in the wild.”

[…]

Delisting would shift management responsibilities to the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, opening the door for hunting to take place. The three states have all unveiled plans for hunting regulations in the post-delisting rule.

The delisting rule and conservation strategy shoot for a population of about 674 bears within a 19,279-square-mile area called the demographic monitoring area. At that level, some killing of bears would be allowed. If the population dipped below 600, then no discretionary kills would be allowed.

The amount of discretionary kills that could be allowed each year would be decided at a meeting of the three state wildlife agencies, with park officials invited to attend. Wyoming stands to get the largest share of the mortality, followed by Montana and then Idaho.

Wenk said that if hunting is to happen, he wants it to focus on places where human conflict with grizzly bears is greatest and not on the border of Yellowstone. He said he would like a change in the document that could “give assurance that we’re concentrating the mortality in areas where there is conflict.”

Wyoming Game and Fish’s chief game warden Brian Nesvik said that the decision on exactly where would likely be up to state fish and game commissions, and that focusing on conflict would likely be a component of that.

“It’s in the states’ interest to have bears that are going to be in conflict to be those that are part of discretionary mortality,” Nesvik said.

Wenk added he had concerns regarding the size and location of the “demographic monitoring area” (DMA), which would include Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Both parks make up 21 percent of the DMA. Hunting is prohibited in national park territory, but could be permitted just outside the parks. “So 100 percent of the (hunting of grizzlies) will be taking place on 80 percent of the DMA,” Wenk said. “The question is, is that an appropriate way to look at it?”

Wenk added that hunting in the DMA could discourage bears from “connecting” with other grizzly populations—something grizzly advocates say is essential for the survival and propagation of the species. Nesvik assured Wenk that there would be no “biological impact,” given the mobility of the population. From the Chronicle:

Nesvik also said that, with the myriad issues inside the more than 100-page-long conservation strategy, it’s not realistic to think that all of the parties will love every word — himself and the other state agencies included.

“There will be components of the strategy where we won’t have 100 percent agreement but we will still have agreement on a conservation strategy,” Nesvik said.

The volume of work left to go and the tone of the meeting led some public commenters at the meeting to wonder whether the officials will actually have the document finished by October.

“Today the discussion has just seemed very rushed and very politically driven,” said Bonnie Rice of the Sierra Club. “This species is too important … to rush this process.”

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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