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Yellowstone Grizzly Delisting Affects Crown

  May 26, 2016.  On March 11, 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released the revised delisting federal rule for the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Ecosystem (GYE) Grizzly Bear.  The Rule proposes to remove the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear population from protection under the Endangered Species Act.  Headwaters Montana thinks delisting of the Yellowstone population is premature for several reasons.

  • The GYE population remains unconnected to the Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Bear population
  • The Rule does not provide standards for connectivity and the assured 'repatriation' of Grizzlies to the Salmon-Selway ecosystem
  • The Rule allows hunting of Grizzlies and establishes a lower threshold of 600 bears, which will prevent natural expansion and connection to other ecosystems

The Grizzly Bear has recovered remarkably since its listing in 1975 as "threatened" species under the ESA.  The ESA represents the American spirit at its best - offering protection to America's imperiled wildlife.  In a very real sense, the American People deserve credit for the ongoing success story of Grizzly Bear recovery.

But recovery remains incomplete.  The Recovery Plan for the Griz was written back in 1992, and it set 1992-era goals that do not align with what we know today about the science of population biology, or the concern and admiration the America public hold for the Grizzly Bear.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of the Delisting Rule is its authorizing the trophy hunting of Grizzlies, allowing the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to divvy up between the states the "discretionary mortality" (the part of the recovering Grizzly population deemed 'excess').  A trophy hunt of Grizzly bears will have several negative consequences.  It will:

  • Directly decrease or eliminate opportunities for the further reconnection of the Yellowstone and Northern populations
  • Interfere with the social structure of Grizzlies that are highly intelligent
  • Directly decrease the already marginally 'recovered' population in the GYE
  • Reverse 40-years of progress during which people have learned to live with Grizzlies and come to highly value their presence in the landscape.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has established a model program for managing Grizzly Bears that come in conflict with people and livestock.  The conflict management program was adopted slowly by FWP due to internal resistance, but over the years has demonstrated that bears in conflict can be managed successfully.  Headwaters Montana fully supports FWPs in this program and thinks bear conflict management offers the best tool for informed management of the Grizzlies.  Individual bears can be removed under this program, but based on a well thought out criteria.  By comparison, trophy hunting is a blunt instrument. (You can read our comments to the USFWS here.)

Headwaters Montana has also sent comments to the Montana Fish and Game Commission requesting that the commission not allow a trophy hunt.  We recommend that FWP maintain and expand their bear conflict program and fully fund it.  Under this program FWP could allow hunters to assist FWP bear management specialist in removing Grizzly Bears that have been identified for removal under the existing criteria.  This "management hunt" differs from an open "trophy hunt" in that it would identify individual bears that would be remove from the population in any event.  We think this proposal represents a reasonable compromise, and allows hunters some opportunity, while ensuring that the Grizzly Bear population can continue to expand, and people can continue to learn to live with this iconic American wildlife species.  (Read our letter to the Montana F&G Commission here.)