Grizzly bear management WGFD opens conversation to the public
Since the recent delisting of grizzly bears from the endangered species list, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) held nine public meetings to gather input from the public.
WGFD asked the public to identify issues with the Wyoming grizzly bear management plan and provide ideas and suggestions for changes the public would like to see in the management plan.
The last public meeting was held as a Facebook live event on Dec. 5, titled “Grizzly Bear Management Conversation,” where people could comment and ask questions in real time.
WGFD Communications Director Renny MacKay, WGFD Wildlife Division Chief Brian Nesvik and WGFD Large Carnivore Program Supervisor Dan Thompson hosted the event.
“This is a very exciting time in the history of grizzly bear recovery, and WGFD is glad to be having these conversations, which we hope will continue the grizzly bear dialogue,” said MacKay.
Nesvik discussed how the recent delisting of grizzly bears has affected WGFD and explained why public meetings were held across Wyoming.
“On July 31, 2017, management of the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, spanning Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, was turned over to the states. This means WGFD needs to implement our grizzly bear management plan, which was approved by the WGFD Commission in May 2016,” stated Nesvik.
He said the purpose of the public meetings was to present information about the grizzly bear management plan to the public and then to receive input and feedback.
“I think it’s important to note these meetings are not part of a formal regulation process. The meetings are open-ended conversations to check in with the public and hear their thoughts before WGFD makes any proposals to the WGFD Commission,” he noted.
To provide management plan information, Thompson gave some background on WGFD’s grizzly bear recovery plan.
In the recovery plan, WGFD follows three primary recovery criteria for grizzly bears. The first criterion is population level, which ensures there are 500 grizzlies in a demographic monitoring area (DMA), which allows consistent monitoring.
“Five hundred grizzlies are necessary to maintain genetic variability for the adequate reproduction of the population, which has been maintained well above 500 bears since 2000,” he noted.
The second criterion focuses on the primary conservation area, which holds 18 bear management units where females with new cubs, yearlings and two-year-olds are documented.
“In the last decade, the density within the conservation area has been maintained, but the density has expanded beyond the core area into new areas,” stated Thompson.
Evaluating mortality rates on an annual basis is the third criterion, according to Thompson.
He mentioned, in 2005, grizzly bears were delisted, and mortality thresholds were set in place, regardless of population size.
“Newer thresholds allow for more flexibility, so if the population is higher, a higher mortality rate is allowed,” he explained.
Female grizzly mortality rates were above the threshold at times but are mostly below the threshold, while the male mortality threshold has never been exceeded, added Thompson.
The five main components of the WGFD grizzly management plan, are monitoring, research, conflict resolution, outreach and education, and hunting, explained Thompson, noting information provided by the public will be compiled to provide feedback.
In terms of monitoring, WGFD annually captures grizzly bears to collar and mark them so a representative sample of the population can be maintained.
“Every bear captured provides great insights into reproduction, annual and daily movements, diet, habitat use, body condition and more for the population,” said Thompson.
WGFD also conducts aerial and ground observations of DMA sites every summer. All data goes into the evaluation of the overall abundance of grizzlies and female distribution of reproduction, he noted.
“The question WGFD is asking the public is, what ideas do they have for current and future monitoring strategies of grizzlies?” Thompson stated.
Research and monitoring data are connected, noted Thompson, but he thinks it is important to increase knowledge to better manage the grizzly bear population.
“For decades, WGFD has focused on demonstrating the recovery of grizzlies, but I think we need to start looking at more questions,” he explained. “What is the public interested in with grizzly populations? What kind of information should be pursued by researchers for grizzlies?”
Conflict management is another criterion, which is an essential component of large carnivore conservation, according to Thompson, and requires trained professionals to handle conflicts.
“WGFD has dealt with the conflict between grizzlies and people since the 1970s, but grizzlies have expanded into new areas and more human dominated landscapes, which leads to more unique challenges,” he stated.
“The public is extremely interested in conflict management, so the question is, what ideas and suggestions does the public have for on-the-ground conflict management of grizzlies?” he added.
Outreach, education and hunting
WGFD outreach and education is intricately linked to everything else the department does for grizzly bears, Thompson mentioned.
In 1991, education efforts were launched to reduce conflicts between people and grizzlies and to educate the public.
“Starting in 2005, WGFD initiated the Bear Wise Community Program west of Cody, which was extremely beneficial and gained a lot of public ownership to assist in the recovery of grizzles,” he stated.
Based on the success of the program, WGFD expanded the program statewide, and according to Thompson, the program is the foundation of grizzly conservation management.
“WGFD is definitely looking for ideas and suggestions to build on the success of the Bear Wise Community Program,” he added.
Finally, the last criterion of the grizzly bear management plan is the hunting of grizzlies.
While the other four criteria have been in place, some for decades, grizzly bear hunting has been absent for multiple decades, noted Thompson.
“In the WGFD grizzly management plan, there is a tri-state memorandum of agreement that is part of the Montana and Idaho plans, conservation strategy and delisting movement. The memorandum is the guiding document for the allocation for the amount of bears that would be available for hunting,” Thompson stated.
He noted the idea of hunting grizzlies is controversial but thinks it is important to mention that the grizzly population can sustain hunting within the government’s mortality restraints.
“WGFD is asking the public what their ideas and suggestions are for hunting grizzlies in Wyoming. We are looking for insight into structure and regulations,” Thompson said.
“Mainly, WGFD is looking forward to absorbing all the ideas, issues and concerns the public has and will use those thoughts to frame our grizzly bear management plan,” he added.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.