Tag Archives: grizzly bear

Wyoming Game and Fish takes comments on grizzly bear plan

The state of Wyoming is moving to take over management of grizzly bears as environmental groups increasingly scrutinize whether the bear population in the Greater Yellowstone region could sustain hunting.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission held its first public hearing earlier this week outlining how the state will manage grizzly bears when they come off of the federal endangered species list. It plans other meetings around the state.

Federal announcement

The federal government announced in early March that it intends to lift threatened-species protections for grizzlies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The decision could lead to bear hunting in the three states for the first time since the 1970s. There are an estimated 700 to 1,000 grizzly bears in the three states.

State response

State officials have responded enthusiastically to the federal delisting announcement, but several environmental groups have said they don’t believe the Greater Yellowstone bear population can sustain hunting pressure and won’t be protected adequately without federal oversight.

The grizzly delisting decision could be setting the stage for another legal battle pitting environmental groups against state and federal agencies. Environmental groups have been pressing legal challenges for years over the federal government’s push to turn management of Wyoming wolves over to the state.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington, D.C., has sided with environmental groups that challenged a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase the future number of grizzlies that elk hunters at Grand Teton National Park could kill if necessary in self-defense. The judge rejected an overall challenge to elk hunting there.

Contreras ruled Tuesday that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to document its decision to allow hunters to kill four grizzly bears over the next six years or so if necessary during the elk hunts at Grand Teton. The agency was compelled to consider increasing the number of bears it would allow to be killed there after hunters in 2012 killed a bear that confronted them.

Contreras stated in his ruling that he believes the agency would be able to substantiate its decision to allow the extra bears to be killed.

An attempt to reach a spokeswoman at Grand Teton was not immediately successful. Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael, whose office intervened in the suit, declined comment.

Environmentalists reaction

Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso in Montana represented the Sierra Club, Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity in challenging the agency action.

Preso said Wednesday that grizzly bear mortality has been increasing in recent years as white bark pine trees have produced fewer seeds, forcing bears to range farther in search of meat and putting them in conflict with ranchers and hunters.

Preso said he expects environmental groups will assess the federal grizzly delisting proposal carefully and comment on it.

If grizzlies are delisted, each state must have a bear management plan that addresses such things as monitoring bear populations and enforcing wildlife laws. In addition, the three states have a separate proposed plan to coordinate their management of the bears.

Wyoming’s proposed plan provides the framework and guidance on how the state will sustain a recovered population of grizzly bears, state Wildlife Chief Brian Nesvik said during Wednesday’s meeting in Casper. He said the state hopes delisting could occur by the end of this year.

Grizzly bears inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and on the Wind River Indian Reservation would not be subject to state management.

Wyoming’s plan notes that regulated hunting of grizzly bears may be an option for controlling the number of the animals. It would be up to the state Game and Fish Commission to approve the use of hunting and establish regulations, such as limits and seasons, through a separate process, Game and Fish spokesman Renny MacKay said.

Grizzly protection in Yellowstone may end

The federal government is proposing to lift threatened-species protections for hundreds of Yellowstone-area grizzlies, opening the door to future hunts for the fearsome bears across parts of three states for the first time since the 1970s.

The Associated Press obtained details of the proposal in advance of an announcement on March 3. It caps a four-decade, government-sponsored effort to rebuild the grizzly population and follows the lifting of protections in recent years for more than a dozen other species, including the gray wolf, brown pelican and flying squirrel.

Hunting within Yellowstone National Park would still be prohibited. But the proposal could allow animals to be taken in surrounding parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

“By the time the curtain closes on the Obama administration, we are on track to have delisted more species due to recovery than all previous administrations combined,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe told the AP. “We’ve done that because of several decades of hard work, like with the grizzly bear.”

The Grizzly in America

Grizzlies once roamed much of North America and came to symbolize the continent’s untamed wilderness. Hunters and trappers had nearly wiped them out across most of the Lower 48 states by the late 1800s.

A final decision on the proposal is due within a year. It could come sooner if state wildlife commissioners act quickly to adopt rules on how much hunting is allowed. Those rules are not mandatory under the federal proposal, federal officials said.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the AP that the bear population would be responsibly managed by state wildlife officials. The Democrat said if a public hunt for the animals is pursued, it could be done in a way that avoids killing bears that live on the periphery of Yellowstone National Park.

“Yellowstone wildlife is treasured. We understand that. We’ll manage them in a way that addresses that sensitivity,” Bullock said.

Protections would remain in place for about 1,000 bears in and around Glacier National Park and smaller populations elsewhere in Montana, Idaho and Washington state. Grizzlies are not protected in Alaska, where hunting has long been allowed.

Since grizzlies in the Lower 48 were added to the endangered and threatened species list in 1975, the number in the Yellowstone region increased from 136 animals to an estimated 700 to 1,000 today, according to government researchers.

Yet after years of growth, the grizzly population plateaued in recent years, and some wildlife advocates say it’s too soon to allow hunting. Also opposed are dozens of American Indian tribes that view the grizzly as a sacred animal.

Formal consultations between the tribes and the Interior Department are ongoing, although Ashe said the issue is unlikely to be resolved.

Federal and state officials said limits on how many bears can be killed will safeguard against a collapse in the bear population.

If bear numbers drop below 600, intentional killings through hunting and the removal of bears that attack livestock would be prohibited. Exceptions would be made for bears that threaten public safety. More hunting would be allowed when bear numbers increase.

Grizzly numbers rebounded despite declines in some of their key food sources, including cutthroat trout and the nuts of whitebark pine, a high-elevation tree devastated by bark beetles and an invasive fungus.

Environmentalists argue that those declines are good reasons to keep protecting the region’s grizzlies. But government-sponsored studies have shown grizzlies are able to adapt easily to different types of food, said Brian Nesvik, wildlife and law enforcement chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The last legal hunts for Yellowstone-area bears happened in the 1970s. The animals were taken off the threatened species list in 2007, but that move was struck down and protections were restored two years later after environmental groups challenged the government in court.

State officials and members of Congress have pointed to the case of the grizzly bear as an example of how the Endangered Species Act needs changes so animals don’t linger under federal protections once they are recovered.

Ashe said reforms aren’t needed as much as money to help species recover.