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Proposal to Delist Yellowstone Grizzlies Faces Uncertainty

After months of debate and drafting, state and federal wildlife managers are still hammering out details of the proposal to delist Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species Act.

Indeed, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, member agencies of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee hoped to agree on a final plan at the meetings scheduled today and Thursday in Cody, which the public is invited to attend, but no one is sure whether that will happen—in the short or long term:

Gregg Losinski, with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the different agencies are still working on “fine tuning” parts of that strategy.

“As far as being able to nail it all down, don’t know that we’re going to be able to do that,” Losinski said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously announced their intent to delist Yellowstone area grizzlies in March, who have been listed on the Endangered Species Act since 1975. An estimated 700 plus grizzly bears currently live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, up from a low of 136 in 1975.

If Yellowstone grizzlies are delisted, management will turn over to the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, all of whom have expressed interest in trophy hunting, albeit on a limited scale, especially in Montana and Idaho. As a part of the proposal, each state wildlife agency submitted draft plans for management, which will influence the USFWS’ final plan.

Wildlife advocates (both local and across the globe) have clashed with officials over the delisting proposal, saying the population is not fully recovered and is threatened by both climate change and potential interactions with people. Tribal entities, for whom the grizzly is a sacred animal, have been vocal as well, with several tribes signing a treaty opposing the proposal. Officials in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have also criticized the USFWS’ plan, citing the grizzly as an important draw for visitors.

In addition to advocate input, the USFWS’ proposal has been hampered by internal debate over the aims of delisting and, according to the Chronicle, ways to make the plan defensible against potential lawsuits:

Some changes have been agreed to, but going into Wednesday at least one area of contention remained — a portion of the conservation strategy called Appendix C, which deals with how government scientists will keep track of the population size into the future and how that will impact the number of discretionary kills allowed each year.

One of the conflicts in this section concerns what would happen if the scientists that monitor the bears — the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team — decide to use a different method for estimating the population because they believe it is more accurate.

Some argue that if the method is changed and scientists learn there are more bears than they thought, population goals and allowable bear mortality would need to be recalculated to keep the population stable. On the other side, some argue those should be a hard number no matter how many bears actually live in the region.

Dan Wenk, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, said in an interview Tuesday that the conflict comes down to whether officials want to manage grizzly bears for a stable population or to maintain a minimum number.

“We want it to be a stable population,” Wenk said.

The state wildlife agencies are on the other side of the argument. Losinski said the issue hasn’t come up with the delisting of other species, and that the state agencies feel the strategy doesn’t need to go to that extent.

“Whether we’ll be able to resolve anything, it’s difficult to say at this point,” Losinski said.

Chris Colligan, a wildlife program coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, has been critical of the process, calling the process “very confusing to the public,” driving a wedge between agencies and their constituents. Speaking to the Chronicle, Colligan reported the GYC can’t support the proposal as it stands.

About Sean Reichard

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

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