There will be no hunting of Yellowstone grizzly bears in the state of Montana this year.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency announced they would not seek permission to organize a hunting season through the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The news comes weeks after the state of Wyoming announced it would start drafting grizzly bear hunting regulations.
According to FWP director Martha Williams, the agency says choosing to not establish a hunting season this year reflects the agency’s commitment to the grizzly’s longterm survival.
“Holding off on hunting for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,” Williams told the Chronicle.
Yellowstone grizzly bears were delisted from the Endangered Species List in June 2017, following nearly two years of debate and public comment. The population had previously been delisted in 2007, but protections were reinstated in 2009 when a federal judge ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not considered how climate change was impacting grizzly food sources. Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho assumed management responsibilities of Yellowstone grizzly bears in August 2017. From the Chronicle:
The official government estimate puts the Yellowstone grizzly population at about 700 bears. Greg Lemon, a spokesman for FWP, said the allowable deaths for the three states was calculated to be 17.
Wyoming gets most of the allowable deaths, with the numbers this year being 10 males and 1 female. Idaho’s allowance is one female. Montana’s allowable mortality is 0.9 females and 5.8 males.
Montana will still retain its portion of allowable deaths, meaning the numbers for the other two states would remain the same whether the state decides to hunt bears or not.
The FWP also stated that current legal challenges against the grizzly delisting decision influenced the agency’s decision to not pursue hunting. Currently, there are several lawsuits filed against the USFWS, arguing the decision to delist Yellowstone grizzly bears should be reversed. A coalition of environmental and conservation groups filed suit shortly after the delisting announcement. Another lawsuit, filed by a coalition of Native American tribes, contests the delisting decision on religious grounds.
The USFWS announced in December it was reviewing its decision to delist Yellowstone grizzly bears, following a ruling in a separate case that preserved protections for gray wolves around the Great Lakes. In that ruling, the judge found the agency erred in removing Endangered Species protections for a subpopulation (Great Lakes wolves) without considering how the decision would impact the wolf population as a whole.
In January, we reported a coalition of tribal and conservation groups asked the judge presiding over the USFWS grizzly suit to invalidate the agency’s decision, citing the wolf ruling and the agency’s decision to review its own decision.
Yellowstone grizzly bears are one of several grizzly subpopulations in/near the state of Montana. Recent research suggests that Yellowstone grizzlies may be on the cusp of reconnecting with another sizeable population—the grizzlies living in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes Glacier National Park.