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.”