Wyo Game and Fish Commission approves grizzly bear regulations at meetingWritten by Joy Ufford
Pinedale – The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission heard from speakers for and against the Chapter 67 Grizzly Bear Management regulations before voting to approve it June 7.
This version includes newly expanded protections for other grizzlies accompanying a female.
The regulation – which does not authorize hunting -– is next step required of the Game and Fish Department (WGFD) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) “threatened” grizzly bear.
FWS proposed delisting in March, saying the GYA population is now above 700 bears and recovered. The Commission approved the WGFD management plan and its Tri-State Memorandum of Agreement to commit to a minimum of 600 GYE bears at the last meeting.
WGFD Chief Wildlife Officer Brian Nesvik addressed commissioners about the drafted Chapter 67 regulation.
“The essence of this regulation is to ensure grizzly bear propagation,” Nesvik said, explaining, the FWS is “adamant” that an enforceable state regulation such as this is in place before it posts its final delisting rule.
Those against the regulation cited their opposition to the regulation and delisting, as well as hunting, which will not be addressed until the distinct population segment is actually under WGFD management, he explained.
Commission President Carrie Little informed those waiting to speak that the regulation does not approve or deny hunting, but each said they would make a short comment anyway.
Inside the rules
Nesvik then told the commission, “First of all, most of this information is covered in some way, shape or form in the state management plan, which has already been approved.”
The regulation goes into greater details about “discretionary mortality” and definitions of GYA grizzlies’ monitoring areas and other “germane details,” he said.
If in the future, the overall tri-state GYA delisted population falls below 600 bears “we will stop hunting,” he said.
Also, the regulation covers quota exceedances by subtracting them from the following year’s tri-state limit.
“The essence of this regulation is to ensure a recovered grizzly bear population,” Nesvik said. “It’s important for the Commission to establish that for this regulation, hunting may occur. This regulation does not say hunting will occur. It leaves those discussions and those decisions for a later time.”
That way, these details are in place “if the Commission decides to go down that road.”
The regulation does state there will be no hunting outside the Demographic Monitoring Area boundary, and those bears, if any, are still protected by the FWS.
“Like other species, if hunting is to occur, there will be designated hunting areas and designated quotas, so like other species, no person will be allowed to take a bear outside the seasons,” Nesvik added.
A new element added just before the June 8 meeting would protect any grizzly accompanying a female, even it might appear to be older than a cub or yearling, according to Nesvik.
Nesvik said using an “age class” makes it difficult for hunters to determine a second grizzly’s age. He and Thompson agreed that a bear traveling with a female “is highly likely to be an offspring.”
“A two-year-old will travel with its mother, especially coming out of a den,” Thompson added.
Nesvik closed his presentation of the Chapter 67 regulation, and Little then gave the public a chance to speak.
Pinedale rancher and Rep. Albert Sommers said he was putting on each hat and voiced concerns about human and livestock safety and the Upper Green River Grazing Association supports delisting.
“We support the regulation,” said Taylor Engum of Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.
Publisher and sportsman Darryl Hunter voiced his opinion that it would be “pragmatic to have 5.9 million acres closed off to hunting.”
Wyoming Sierra Club spokesman Lloyd Dorsey said fellow members do not believe grizzlies “should not be killed back to a boundary,” adding the animals benefit the ecosystem and economy and “are more valuable to Wyoming alive than dead.”
“This isn’t about hunting grizzlies,” replied Commissioner David Rael.
Next was Roger Hayden from Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, who noted bear conflicts are rising and these should be better managed.
Pinedale outfitter Terry Pollard spoke in support of the regulation
He was followed by Jim Laybourn and a speaker from The Humane Society of the United States, both of who decried grizzly delisting and hunting.
“Grizzly bear trophy hunting is socially unacceptable and economically incompatible with our economy,” Laybourn said of Teton County. “That’s a mandate at least for Teton County and the surrounding parks.”
After public comments, the WGFD Commission voted unanimously to approve the revised Chapter 67 grizzly bear management regulation.
Grizzly bear management: Wyo Game and Fish Commission approves grizzly plansWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – During a final public meeting on May 11, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved an update to Wyoming’s Grizzly Bear Management Plan and the accompanying three-state Memorandum of Agreement (MDA).
“Since grizzly bears went on the endangered species list, Wyoming has invested $40 million to recover this population. That is incredible commitment to ensure the viability of the species. The Commission approved a plan to ensure this commitment is honored and grizzly bears will be managed under state leadership and stay recovered,” said Scott Talbott, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) director.
WGFD Wildlife Division Chief Brian Nesvik added, “I think this is a great day to celebrate and honor the success of a species that in our state is highly valued.”
Nesvik continued, “Today represents the culmination of a lot of investment by our citizens. For people who recreate or make their living or exist in places where grizzly bears exist, they’ve had to make some changes, and this represents and honors those people who have made those changes so this can happen.”
During the May 11 meeting, Nesvik reviewed the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan noting that it has sections looking at establishing population criteria, habitat, demonstration of recovery and monitoring.
Nesvik also summarized comments received on the plan, mentioning that there was a difference between approval within the state and outside the state.
“We went off for a week and conducted presentations around the state, presenting the information, answering clarifying questions and receiving public comment,” Nesvik said.
During public meetings, 286 total attendees heard from WGFD, with the highest number of attendees at the Cody and Jackson meetings.
“There were over 20 issues identified through written public comments and public meetings,” he explained. “We received 449 unique comments that were submitted as written comments.”
In total, Nesvik summarized that 67 percent of comments opposed the plan, and 33 percent supported it.
“There was a difference as we look at comments from Wyoming addresses and non-Wyoming addresses,” he said, noting that only 14 percent of non-Wyoming commenters supported the plan, and 67 percent of Wyoming comments supported it
Comments from within the state numbered 223, while 226 comments came from outside the state.
In looking at the supporters of the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Plan, Nesvik noted that WGFD was able to categorize comments.
“Of those who supported the plan, 33.6 percent identified that the WGFD was the appropriate agency to manage bears,” Nesvik said. “Very close was the comment that the population was recovered and delisting was overdue, with 20.8 percent of comments mentioning it.”
Many comments also mentioned support of delisting, which was beyond the scope of the comments on the plan, but was supportive overall, he added.
“There was discussion about conflict, discussion about the conservative population estimates and the fact that there are more bears on the ground than in estimates,” he said. “Comments came in about the management plan being thorough and science-based.”
Additionally, there was some discussion about hunting and support of comments based on conservation.
While support for the plan was strong within Wyoming, Nesvik noted that many people outside the state opposed the plan.
“If we look at those who oppose the plan, the number one comment was hunting,” he said. “Seventy-eight percent of those comments identified hunting.”
The second largest concern was with eco-tourism, with 40 percent of commenters mentioning the that economic value of grizzly bears should be considered.
“Connectivity between the ecosystem and the size of the designated monitoring area should also be considered,” Nesvik added.
Opposition also noted that threats to food sources, including climate change, and hunting around the national parks was also a concern.
With hunting as a prominent concern for people against the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan, Nesvik noted, “The management plan does identify hunting as a potential tool. The Commission will consider the use of hunting down the road.”
The plan does not address specifics regarding hunting because the Commission has the authority to set – or not set – and manage hunting areas, seasons and limits, among other things.
Nesvik said that the state of Wyoming and Commission recognize the value of bears from an ecotourism perspective, using data from the National Park Service on “bear jams” in the park to support his assertion.
“The take-home message is, while bear harvest has remained constant or even increased since 1995, the number of bear jams in the two parks has increased dramatically,” he said. “This demonstrates the harvest of bears does not eliminate opportunities for viewing bears.”
In addition to the management plan, the Commission also approved a three-state Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Idaho, Montana and Wyoming for the management of the species.
“The tri-state memo lays the foundation for grizzly bear management and mortality,” Nesvik said. “It is necessary to manage grizzly bears on an ecosystem level.”
Working together as a three-state team also signifies the agreement and cooperation between states, which is a positive for the delisting process.
“The MOA really has sent positive messages about the commitment between a group of states that have, in large part, agreed on almost every issue regarding how the animals will be managed,” he said.
Following a motion to approve the plan and MOA, Commissioner Patrick Crank of Cheyenne said, “Today should be a celebration. A unique American western species was on the brink of extinction, and because of literally hundreds of thousands of hours of work by dedicated WGFD employees and the expenditure of $40 million, it is thriving.”
Crank continued, “We should be celebrating because we know more about the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem than probably any species in the world. We have tracked and monitored bears. We’ve studied them. We’ve looked at their diet. It’s an amazing amount of work that has gone into recovering this incredible species.”
“This is a celebration, and above all, it’s a recognition of the time and resources invested to make sure that this incredible western species is healthy and thriving,” Crank commented. “I commend the WGFD and prior Commissions.”
Grizzly bear delisting rule announcement brings positive reactions from southwest Wyo residentsWritten by Joy Ufford
By all accounts, the grizzly bear delisting rule announced last week for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) is the welcome result of years of collaboration and millions of dollars.
It also marks a change in how ranchers, recreationists and officials connected to Sublette County – from the Upper Green River Basin (UGRB) to the south end of the Wind River Range – can continue to reduce conflicts and learn to live with the grizzly.
Many in the western half of Wyoming are well aware that the GYE grizzly population, protected under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Endangered Species Act, has spread out from its initial core in Yellowstone east to Park County and south to Teton and Sublette counties.
The grizzly trekked up the Gros Ventre River and funneled through the top the Upper Green River and now works its way down along the Wind River Range.
Many believe this grizzly bear population is well recovered. The protected grizzly’s recovery has continued under the state’s watchful eye.
“Wyoming Game and Fish (WGFD) has continued to be the leader in management of grizzly bears for the last 30 years in consultation with the FWS,” said WGFD spokesman Renny McKay. “The people of Wyoming have already invested $40 million in this over these 30 years.”
WGFD monitors GYE grizzlies and consults with FWS about which to remove or relocate. It also compensates ranchers for confirmed livestock losses, mainly cattle and sheep on forest allotments.
People in the UGRB the Wind River Range have paid for recovery in other ways, he added, with lost income, increased danger and added requirements.
“These people are committed to find a way to live with grizzly bears,” McKay said. “It’s changed the way they recreate, live and earn their livings in Sublette County – this delisting is a testament to that commitment.”
WGFD’s Pinedale Region’s Fiscal Year 2013 damage reports shows it second only to the Cody Region with 20 claims and $130,591 in compensation to producers. Last year WGFD captured and moved or killed 45 grizzlies, mainly in the UGRB.
Pinedale cattle rancher and House Rep. Albert Sommers and his fellow UGRB grazing partners are permitted on the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) where sheep and cattle are heavily preyed upon.
Last year, grizzlies killed 80 of their cattle and ranchers came up short 290 calves.
“I’m pleased we’re going down that path,” he said as a legislator and rancher. “It’s long overdue.”
Their UGRB permits allow 7,000 animal units, although fewer are run. Sommers is less concerned about losing BTNF permits than “us being able to withstand” such depredation.
“Ultimately, we don’t raise beef to feed bears,” he said dryly.
UGRB sheep and cattle permittees still experiment on ways to reduce conflicts, he added.
“We changed some pasture rotations last year. That seemed to help,” Sommers said. “This year, we’re looking at cattle movement changes to see if it helps. We’re examining a larger suite of tools to see if any of them fit.”
Permittees operate under the UGRB grazing environmental impact statement (EIS), which is due to be released soon, Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher said recently, and it doesn’t address delisted grizzlies.
“The grizzly bear is still ‘listed’ until a delisting decision is made. Therefore, we would not anticipate making a decision on UGRB that would conflict with the current FWS biological opinion,” Hoelscher said in a later interview.
After they are “officially” delisted, BTNF won’t need to consult with FWS on potential impacts such as grazing, he said.
As grizzlies move south, the BTNF’s expanded food-storage temporary rule just turned permanent – which applies to everyone now beyond Boulder Creek, he added.
As a Boulder rancher and Sublette County Commissioner, Joel Bousman, with BTNF grazing permits at Silver Creek against the south Wind River Range, agreed the delisting announcement is welcome.
“The grizzly population is well beyond the original numbers determined to provide for population sustainability,” he said. “With a return to state management, the livestock industry will be in a better position to survive economically. As always, the closer management decisions are to the state and local level, the better the decisions.”
As a rancher, Bousman feels the effects of grizzlies moving well south of the UGRB.
“We do not have a loss count as our allotment is almost all in wilderness and is so rugged geographically that we hardly ever see the kills until it is too late to verify the cause,” Bousman said. “The times we had FWS confirm, so many predators predated on the kill that they couldn't tell who was first.”
He added, “We are just starting to get female grizzlies denning on the south end of the Winds and so far no kills verified there.”
The BTNF did not write a “just in case” paragraph for delisted grizzlies in its forthcoming UGRB grazing EIS, according to Hoelscher.
However, delisted grizzlies “automatically become a U.S. Forest Service ‘sensitive species’ and several of the existing protections would remain in place to keep it from being relisted, such as food storage requirements, carcass disposal, etc.,” he said.
“If and when the final FWS decision is made to delist, it is not known what that will entail,” Bousman said. “There will likely be monitoring requirements and protection measures left in place to aid in the continued viability of the (GYE) species.”
BTNF’s “management tools also serve as public safety aids,” he said.
“So, when a final decision is made, U.S. Forest Service will need to assess the changed circumstances and evaluate all of our decisions based on what those circumstances are before we change anything,” Bousman commented.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department seeks public comment on bear planWritten by Saige Albert
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.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes grizzly delistingWritten by Saige Albert
On March 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to remove the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species List.
The announcement comes in response to the successful recovery of what FWS calls “one of the nation’s most iconic animals.” FWS also noted that, during the last three decades, grizzly bear populations have grown from 136 bears in 1975 to 700 or more today.
“The restoration of the grizzly bear in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho during the last three decades stands as one of America’s great conservation successes – a testament to the value of the Endangered Species Act and the strong partnerships it drives,” said FWS in their release.
“The recovery of the Yellowstone grizzly bear represents a historic success for partnership-driven wildlife conservation under the Endangered Species Act,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “Our proposal underscores and celebrates more than 30 years of collaboration with our trusted federal, state and tribal partners to address the unique habitat challenges of grizzlies. The final post-delisting management plans by these partners will ensure healthy grizzly populations persist across the Yellowstone ecosystem long into the future.”
Along with the proposed delisting rule, FWS also released a draft supplement to the 1993 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan for the Yellowstone grizzly bear population and a draft conservation strategy. The documents aim to ensure robust monitoring of the bears, as well as effective conservation going forward.
“Even with this proposed delisting, FWS remains committed to the conservation of the Yellowstone grizzly bear, and will stay engaged to ensure that this incredible species remains recovered,” Ashe said. “We will continue to be part of a strong monitoring program, implementation of the conservation strategy and partnership with our state and federal partners. We are look forward to hearing from the public about the proposal and consulting with Native American tribes.”
Data collected by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s efforts shows that grizzly bear range has more than doubled since the mid-1970s, and the species now occupies more than 22,500 square miles of the Yellowstone ecosystem.
“Stable population numbers for grizzlies for more than a decade also indicate that the Yellowstone ecosystem is at or near its carrying capacity for the bears,” FWS added.
The proposed rule and the supporting documents will publish soon in the Federal Register. FWS will be seeking review and comment by the public, other federal and state agencies and independent scientists.
Comments are requested 60-days after publication and will be accepted electronically at regulations.gov.
“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is an essential tool for conserving the nation’s most at-risk wildlife, as well as the land and water on which they depend for habitat. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of the species listed from the brink of extinction and has served as the critical safety net for wildlife that Congress intended when it passed the law 40 years ago,” said FWS. “The Obama Administration has delisted more species due to recovery than any prior administration, including the Oregon Chub, Virginia northern flying squirrel and brown pelican.”
Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Ken Hamilton commented, “Once again Wyoming has exceeded the bar on delisting so once again it is time to try and see if we can delist a species that science has shown is recovered and hopefully this time the courts will agree with the scientists.”
Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association was more optimistic, also expressing appreciation to FWS and the Governor’s Office.
“We are certainly glad to see that FWS finally moved on issuing a proposed delisting rule,” he said. “It has taken longer than we would have liked, but we will take advantage of the public comment period.”
Magagna added, “We give a lot of credit to the Governor’s Office and Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who have been active in pushing FWS to move forward.”
“We are committed to maintaining a recovered grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Area into the future,” said Scott Talbott, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “Wyoming has already contributed over $40 million dollars to grizzly conservation and recovery. We need to recognize the commitment of Wyoming stakeholders such as sportsmen, ranchers, conservationists, outdoor recreationists and other users of the Greater Yellowstone Area.”