Montana wildlife commissioners have signed off on initial draft hunting regulations for Yellowstone grizzlies.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, they also signed off on an agreement involving Wyoming and Idaho to split up the population under a potential hunting season, should the bears be delisted from the Endangered Species Act. We previously reported the Montana FWP had released a draft hunting plan for Yellowstone grizzlies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously announced their intent to delist Yellowstone grizzlies in March by the end of the year, saying the population had recovered, a notion officials in all three stats assent to, especially in Montana. From the Chronicle:
“This is one of the great success stories,” said commission chair Dan Vermillion of Livingston. “You have to accept the fact that there’s an exit ramp at some point.”
The commission’s vote Thursday opens the plan and the agreement for public comment until June 17. A final decision on both is expected in July.
Officials emphasized that approving the two measures doesn’t mean there will be grizzly bear hunting anytime soon. The bear has to be delisted first — officials expect a final proposal by the end of the year — and the commission would examine opening a season sometime after that.
The three-state agreement lines out how they would divide allowed discretionary mortality between the three states in a 19,279-square-mile area. Bear deaths there would be limited based on population levels and expected natural deaths, and the allowed discretionary killing would be split between the states.
State wildlife officials would meet each year to hammer that out, though the share each state would get is described in the agreement. Wyoming would get 58 percent, Idaho would get 8 percent, and Montana would get 34 percent.
John Vore, FWP’s game management bureau chief, said they expect Montana’s share of the discretionary killing to be very limited, fewer than 10 in most years.
“This number would likely be very low in most years, probably zero in some,” Vore said.
USFWS is requiring each of the three states to put forward draft hunting regulations, which Vore said was the reason FWP crafted the proposal presented Thursday.
Missoula commissioner Gary Wolfe pointed out discrepancies in the wording of the three-state agreement and the USFWS’ conservation strategy and delisting rule, saying those needed to be fixed before the agreement got final approval. He said discrepancies could leave a door open for environmental groups to sue and stop delisting, which they did in 2007 when the bears were last delisted.
“We should minimize the opportunity for people to throw darts at this,” Wolfe said.
The Hunting Season, Supporters and Detractors
According to the Chronicle, the FWP’s draft regulations call for a spring and fall season and would establish seven “grizzly bear management units” on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park between Interstate 15 and the Crow Indian Reservation. Hunters would be prohibited from killing bears in groups as well as denned bears. Licenses would be available on a limited basis; anyone who draws a license wouldn’t be able to try again for at least seven years. Montana residents would have to pay $150 for a bear tag. Nonresidents would be charged $1,000 for a bear tag. Both would have to pay $50 for a trophy license.
The move, naturally, has drawn praise from hunting/outfitting organizations and criticism from wildlife advocacy groups and environmental organizations. From the Chronicle:
Tom France, of the National Wildlife Federation, said the agency instead needed to look at grizzly bear management more holistically, rather than focusing on the hunting of bears in the Yellowstone region.
“We think the hunting regulations are premature,” France said.
Erin Edge, of Defenders of Wildlife, said that hunting shouldn’t be allowed near Yellowstone’s borders or in places where bears might have a chance at linking up with other grizzly populations, like the one in the Northern Continental Divide, which many argue is necessary for the long-term viability of grizzly bears.
“Our hope is that future generations will be witness to a larger and interconnected population,” Edge said.
Paul Rossingol, of Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, expressed support for the proposals, arguing that it was the right time to start thinking about grizzly hunting.
“There’s no reason being behind the eight-ball” when work can begin now, he said.
Mac Minard, the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, also supported the proposals, saying that hunting could help bear management as a whole.
“The opportunity to provide some focused and conservative hunting opportunity can help us with human and bear interactions,” Minard said.