WYOMING – With an estimated 700 grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced Thursday they have sufficiently recovered to be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections.
By press time, no lawsuits were announced against the FWS delisting rule, which will return the state’s grizzlies to Wyoming Game and Fish (G&F) management, along with Montana and Idaho, in about a month.
Also at press time, FWS had not yet published the delisting rule in the Federal Register; after that, grizzly delisting can take effect in 30 days, according to G&F spokesman Renny McKay.
McKay said G&F is planning to take charge at a measured pace – including any potential trophy-game hunting season.
“We plan to take some time to discuss the potential of hunting, so it will not happen this fall,” he said Monday. “We want to take the next several months to talk about where we go next year.”
The GYE states have coordinated efforts with their tri-state memorandum of agreement (MOA) to manage grizzlies in the wider GYE regarding how to allocate “discretionary mortality” in the GYE.
FWS proposed the “recovery criterion for a conservative total of at least 500 GYE beats,” according to the MOA. FWS also set a goal of at least 48 females with cubs in the “demographic monitoring area.”
The number of 500 bears includes a “buffer” built onto a minimum of 400 grizzlies needed to offset potential inbreeding or genetic drift.
There are actually three “rings” of monitoring boundaries with Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks at the core – the GYE distinct population segment (DPS) covers the western portion of Wyoming to Rock Springs and Rawlins. No grizzlies have yet been found outside this the state’s boundary.
The DMA around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks is defined as “the geographic area used to monitor continued achievement of GYE population and distribution objectives.”
Within the smaller DMA enclosing the national parks is the primary conservation area.
The FWS issued its proposed grizzly delisting rule last year with peer reviews and took thousands of public comments. Also last year, G&F Commission approved the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan.
Gov. Matt Mead hailed the grizzly delisting announcement on Thursday, as did the Wyoming Delegation.
“Grizzly bears have met or exceeded recovery objectives since 2003 and have long warranted delisting. In 2013, I asked Secretary Salazar to delist the grizzly bears and much work toward this end has been done. I appreciate that the FWS is proceeding now with the delisting,” he said. “The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which includes the FWS and Wyoming Game and Fish, must be commended for its years of great work. Thanks to the team effort, grizzlies will be managed appropriately by our experts at Game and Fish. I thank all involved in the delisting effort.”
U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis quickly issued their own joint statement.
“This is great news for Wyoming,” said Enzi.
“After years of Washington moving the goal posts, Wyoming should be able to move forward with managing our wildlife,” Barrasso noted.
Cheney added, “This welcome decision … rightly returns management of the Yellowstone grizzly to where it should be, under the control of experts in Wyoming, not Washington.”
Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Ken Hamilton acknowledged the delisting path might not be a smooth one – “I’m sure there will be legal challenges which will be unfortunate since the goals and numbers have been reached and surpassed to delist the species. But we recognize there are some well-financed groups who are not necessarily interested in seeing the species delisted but are instead still anxious to preserve the federal agency’s control of state wildlife.”
And although there were no legal challenges Monday morning, Western Watersheds Project’s Jonathan Ratner’s strong statement suggests that might occur.
“(The delisting rule) fails to acknowledge recent population declines, human-caused conflict, or the limited geographic range that limits the species’ connectivity with grizzlies elsewhere,” he wrote on June 22. “Livestock grazing on public lands is a root cause of the lethal removal of grizzlies outside of Yellowstone National Park. Until the grizzly has a clear path to recovery throughout its range and between the currently isolated populations, it’s not ready to be left to the mercy of Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the federal Wildlife Services’ predator-killing agenda. Real recovery entails protecting sufficient habitat outside of the park to sustain a genetically viable population.”
For the Wyoming grizzly bear management plan and other information, visit https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Wildlife-in-Wyoming/.