Wyoming Game and Fish Department seeks public comment on bear plan
On March 11, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) filed a proposed rule for removing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The rule prompted the release of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) draft Grizzly Bear Management Plan.
WGFD Wildlife Division Chief Brian Nesvik says, “The plan we sent out is a modification from the plan that was approved the last time grizzly bears were delisted.”
“This plan provides a commitment by the state of Wyoming to manage for healthy, viable populations of grizzly bears for the long-term,” he adds.
The grizzly bear was first listed on the Endangered Species List as threatened in 1975.
“All of the recovery criteria were met or exceeded by 2004,” Nesvik says. “Many of us remember that in 2007, the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Area was delisted.”
However, a short time later, a court determined that the impacts of white bark pine, a food source for the bears, were not adequately described.
“The courts determined that adequate regulatory mechanisms did exist, but the FWS didn’t describe any impact that may occur with white bark pine declines in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem,” he adds.
At that point, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team prepared and compiled a report, later called the Food Synthesis Report.
“The report addresses the concerns that were expressed by the court and prompted the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team to support delisting of bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem,” Nesvik says.
The Wyoming Grizzly Bear Draft Management Plan has a number of components to determine how bears will be managed upon delisting.
“Included in the plan are specifics on the management frame work that would be used for determining the allowable mortality each year, whether that be any form of discretionary mortality,” Nesvik says. “The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has not decided if we will have hunting seasons or not, but these mortality limits include things like removal from livestock depredation and human safety, as well.”
“The plan also determines mechanisms to determine the highest percentage of mortality of adult males and adult females each year to still fall within the federal delisting criteria,” he continues.
The plan also discusses livestock depredation, and most significantly, it highlights the new Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA).
The DMA is an area that was determined by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team several years ago that establishes biologically and socially suitable habitat for grizzly bears.
“Those areas outside the line are considered less suitable habitat,” Nesvik says. “Some of those areas are places where grizzly bears could not be successful or areas they haven’t been successful in the past.”
Only the bears inside the DMA count toward population and mortality limits.
“Wyoming can have more discretion, flexibility and liberal management outside the DMA line,” Nesvik comments.
With grizzly bears on track to being removed from the Endangered Species List, Nesvik highlights, “The reason we’re at the point we are right now is because Wyoming’s people have invested significantly in grizzly bear recovery – to the tune of $40 million.”
Nesvik praised the patience, tolerance and support from Wyomingites for bear recovery.
“This plan honors the folks who have done so much for the state of Wyoming to recover bears, and it shows our commitment to ensure grizzly bears stay off the endangered species list,” he adds.
WGFD encourages citizens to comment on the plan. Comments are open until April 14.
“Those interested can comment online or by mail. We can also take comment at public meetings,” Nesvik says. “However, we cannot accept comments by fax, by email or over the phone, so please mail in comments or go online.”
Following the close of the comment period, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will take final public comments and review the draft plan during a May 11 meeting at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper. The meeting begins at 11 a.m., and the public is encouraged to attend.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.