The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet today to decide on potential hunting regulations for Yellowstone area grizzly bears.
The vote comes as state wildlife agencies draft management plans ahead of a planned proposal to delist Yellowstone grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, besides hunting regulations, the commission will vote on a three-state agreement to establish guidelines for divvying up bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced earlier this year they hope to delist Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species List by early next year. Each Yellowstone state must draft a plan regardless of whether grizzlies are delisted or not. Under the agreement, hunting would only occur if the USFWS successfully makes its case for delisting. Wyoming Game and Fish approved their grizzly plan just yesterday.
Grizzlies were previously delisted in 2007 but reinstated several years later after a federal judge ruled (in a case brought against the USFWS by environmental advocates) that the agency had failed to consider the impacts of climate change on the bears’ long term survival. From the Chronicle:
Opponents of delisting dispute the notion that Yellowstone’s grizzly bears are thriving and say that allowing hunting could send the population into a decline. Some have also called for a buffer zone between hunting districts and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
USFWS’ delisting proposal includes a limit on the number of bears allowed to be killed within a 19,279-square-mile area that includes Yellowstone National Park and parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. The limits are population based, and would rule out any discretionary kills if the population dips below 600.
The USFWS is expected to make a final decision on lifting protections for the bears next year but is requiring that all three states draft hunting rules before that happens. Idaho and Wyoming have both unveiled their plans.
Montana’s proposal would create seven hunting districts near the borders of Yellowstone National Park from Interstate 15 east to the border of the Crow Indian Reservation. It includes measures meant to protect females and young bears from being taken by hunters, like banning the shooting of bears in groups.
Quotas based on what share of the allowed mortality Montana gets would also be implemented. Under the three state agreement, Wyoming would get 58 percent of the harvest, Idaho 8 percent and Montana 34 percent.
FWP representatives have said that even in the event of a hunting season, the quota would be consistently low —fewer than ten, sometimes zero if the population hews closer to 600.