A pending grizzly bear hunting agreement among Wyoming, Idaho and Montana shows the states are dedicated to preserving grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem forever, a Wyoming wildlife official said Tuesday.
Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are drafting an agreement they hope will spur the federal government to allow grizzly bear hunting around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Leaders of the states’ wildlife agencies wrote U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe Dec. 7 saying a proposed agreement would provide necessary “clarity and transparency” as federal Endangered Species Act protections are lifted for the iconic omnivore.
The agreement seeks to satisfy federal requests for more rules to protect grizzlies before management is turned over to states and hunting could begin. A cover letter urges the federal government to remove the bear from the threatened species list, saying delays are “needlessly straining relationships vital to responsible grizzly bear management.” Stockmen who graze on Union Pass, for example, have complained of increasing — even record — grizzly bear conflicts.
The pending agreement outlined in a memo “demonstrates a commitment from three states to ensuring a recovered and viable grizzly bear population in perpetuity,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik said Tuesday. “I don’t think anybody could take that [memo] as anything but support for a grizzly bear population in the greater Yellowstone. This framework would probably describe the most conservative framework of anything we manage in the state.”
Wyoming Game and Fish released what spokesman Renny MacKay called “a draft of a draft” of a memorandum of understanding and cover letter after the Associated Press reported about the document Monday. Nesvik said his agency hopes to release the actual draft MOU for public comment, along with other documents, when federal officials finalize a delisting rule and conservation strategy.
State plans must mesh with the federal documents, Nesvik said. Federal wildlife officials have said that some debates about future grizzly management are premature before they propose the delisting rule and conservation plan, which haven’t been released.
The three states would aim for 600 to 747 grizzlies and would halt “discretionary mortalities,” including hunting, when grizzlies numbered fewer than 600. There are an estimated 717 grizzlies in the federal 19,279 square mile “demographic monitoring area,” around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Last September Ashe told the state directors they needed to consider “additional regulatory mechanisms,” before federal protection would be removed. As a result, the draft memorandum includes references to states’ abilities to impose hunting regulations. It also includes a promise not to allow the shooting of females with cubs at their sides.
The MOU would allocate Wyoming the bulk of hunting quotas at 58 percent. Montana would get 34 percent and Idaho 8 percent.
Nesvik said there’s no fear hundreds of bears would be killed. The number available to hunters would be calculated based on a formula that takes into account population estimates, known mortalities, estimated unknown mortalities and other factors, he said.
He wouldn’t speculate on whether there might be dozens of licenses available, or fewer. Wyoming had an opportunity to institute a grizzly hunt a few years ago when the bear was temporarily removed from protection but the state chose not to do so, he said.
Environmental groups kept up a chorus of dissent against hunting what would be classified as a trophy game animal.
States are eager to begin hunting, “despite the fact that the growth rate of the population has been essentially flat since the early 2000s, the population declined at least 6 percent over the past year, and a record number of bears died in 2015,” Sierra Club representative Bonnie Rice said in a statement.
Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, called delisting “a dangerous delegation of power to states where politics routinely trump science, common sense and humane sensibilities when it comes to the status and role of predators.”
Tri-state letter to Ashe:
Draft tri-state grizzly hunting agreement: