Wyo Endorses Tri-State Grizzly Hunting Pact as Part of De-listing Campaign

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By Angus M. Thuermer Jr., WyoFile

Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have struck a pact to remove grizzly bears from the Yellowstone ecosystem from the federal endangered species list and allow hunting – addressing court flaws found in a previous radiation effort.

The 13-page state-to-state memorandum of understanding addresses two issues the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit discovered in 2020 when it overturned the 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision. removal of federal protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone.

States are committed to managing a new grizzly bear population target in the 932 bear ecosystem if federal protections under the Endangered Species Act are lifted. This upward recalibration responds to a new, more accurate method of estimating the number of bears that find 1,069 grizzly bears – an accounting increase “on paper” over estimates from a previous and conservative census method.

The tri-state agreement would also ensure the genetic diversity of Yellowstone’s isolated grizzly bear community by moving two bears from outside the ecosystem into the region by 2025 if no natural migration occurs by then. .

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved the pact on Tuesday.

Wyoming will use its new deal to support a petition to the Federal Wildlife Agency that would once again seek to remove the grizzly bear from Yellowstone and open the door to hunting. The agreement explains how the three states would allocate potential “discretionary mortalities” when bears exceed the population target, including shooting grizzly bears for sport.

In 2020, an appeals court overturned a 2017 federal decision to deregister grizzly bears from Yellowstone citing two main reasons. The state’s wildlife managers who were largely in charge of grizzly bears at the time had not determined how they would use more accurate counting methods. The question was whether states would recalibrate population goals in tandem with new population estimates.

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In addition to the issue of recalibration, states had failed to adequately address concerns about genetic diversity and the long-term viability of the isolated population.

“Wyoming intends to address these issues directly,” Rick King, head of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division, said Tuesday in a teleconference meeting of the governance committee. the agency. The updated 2021 three states a deal would do that, he said.

Conservation or scandalous request?

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, who said last fall he would ask the USFWS to re-declare the Yellowstone Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Recovered, welcomed the deal.

“This [Game and Fish memorandum] The approval reaffirms Wyoming’s vow and commitment to long-term grizzly bear conservation and underscores the fact that wildlife management is best placed in the hands of the states, not the federal government, ”he said. he said Tuesday in a statement. Neither Montana nor Idaho had approved their memoranda by then, its statement read, although the states forged the pact together.

Gordon’s deregistration petition would seek to reclassify the population of the Yellowstone ecosystem as a “separate” segment of grizzly bears in the other five grizzly bear recovery areas in the United States. In the population of the Yellowstone ecosystem, extinction is no longer a threat, the petition says.

The six grizzly bear recovery areas in the United States and their occupied habitat. (US Fish and Wildlife Service)

An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that supports grizzly bear protection, was skeptical of the revised counting method and the delisting proposal. “The recent population estimate of over 1,000 bears is based on a new counting methodology and the public should be aware that the grizzly bear population did not explode overnight,” Andrea Zaccardi said in a report. -mail. She urged federal officials to reject Wyoming’s pending “outrageous request”.

The delisting “is intended to turn endangered Wyoming grizzly bears into trophy hunting targets,” she said.

The new agreement would increase the population target for the Population Watch Zone – a 19,270 square mile area centered on Yellowstone National Park – where grizzly bears count for endangered species law compliance. Grizzly bears outside the DMA would not be subject to the agreement, leaving their fate to the states upon delisting.

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If federal protections in the Endangered Species Act are removed, states will work to keep 932 grizzly bears in the AMD, the 13-page memorandum of understanding. This new target would be a 38% increase over the current target of 674 set by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The new target aims to address the recalibration issue reported by the appeals court in 2020. The 38% increase, however, appears to be lower than the “on paper” increase in ecosystem population between 2020 and today. hui, according to calculations made by WyoFile.

The new counting method developed by federal scientists estimated the population at around 1,069 bears, a scientist told officials earlier this month. This represents an increase from the 727 estimated in a 2020 report, an increase of 47%.

The new tri-state memorandum would also set a minimum population of 831, up from 600, an increase of about 28%. Below that minimum, so-called “discretionary mortality” – the elimination of war bears, hunting and other causes of death controlled by wildlife agencies – would largely cease.

States are also committed to genetic diversity. “By 2025, the [states] move at least two grizzly bears from outside the [Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem] in the GYE, unless a migration from outside the GYE is detected in the meantime, ”the agreement reads.

Movable ladder

The amount of “discretionary mortality” would increase with a larger population and decrease with a smaller one, according to the memorandum. If there were more than 1,033 grizzly bears, for example, the total fatality rate for independent males would be 22%.

With less than 932 grizzly bears, the total death rate for independent males would drop to less than 15%. There would be no hunting if the overall DMA population fell below 831.

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A grizzly bear on a carcass in the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park in March 2016 (Jim Peaco / NPS)

Similar movable ladders would apply to independent female grizzly bears and dependent young. The memorandum attributes 58% of discretionary mortalities allowed within the demographic surveillance zone in Wyoming, 34% in Montana, and 8% in Idaho.

The agreement does not attribute any discretionary mortality to Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks, places where grizzly bear conflicts have occurred. Critics have pointed out this omission in a similar, now defunct, tri-state MOA from 2017 as a flaw.

Game and Fish characterized the new agreement as one that “recognizes the increasing number of grizzly bears that have grown beyond the limits of the bear’s biological and socially appropriate range.” The population has grown “well beyond all scientific requirements for a recovered and viable population,” the agency said in a press release.

Federal protection of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem has vexed Wyoming for years. Federal scientists estimated the population at 727 bears – using the old method of counting – in a 2020 status report. This exceeds the ESA minimum population of 500, the buffer management minimum of 600. and the population target of 674 – all figures are derived from the old counting method.

After the federal government withdrew its grizzly bear protection from the Yellowstone ecosystem in 2017, Wyoming approved a hunt that could have killed more than 20 bears. Hunting is not generally permitted in national parks, and there are no plans to kill bears in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks.

A lawsuit has stopped the hunt, overturned the federal deregistration of Yellowstone bears, and led to today’s positions. The Fish and Wildlife Service does not have a de-listing plan, he said earlier this year after reviewing the grizzly’s status outside of Alaska.

“We recommended not to change the threat status of the grizzly bear in the lower 48 states,” the agency said in its 2020 annual report.

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The new counting method changes the way female grizzly bears with cubs are counted by changing what’s called a distance criterion. The old conservative method did not count more than one female with offspring in an area of ​​30 kilometers in radius.

Scientists are now convinced that they do not need this precautionary 30-kilometer “distance criterion” and can reduce it to 16.

The increase in the population estimate is due to this change in methodology. There are essentially as many bears in the ecosystem today as there were in the previous population estimate formula.

WyoFile is an independent, not-for-profit organizationws organization focused on the people, places and politics of Wyoming.

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