Will removing grizzly bears from the endangered species list put them in harm’s way and put them in hunters' sight once again?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a draft rule back in March to remove the bears from the list. Grizzlies have been a threatened species since 1975.
Forty years ago when the bears first occupied the endangered species list, their population was less than 140 bears, which has not currently surged to around 700 in the Greater Yellowstone vicinity.
Plans for Delisting
The draft urged caps on how bears can be killed in a 19,729-square mile area including Yellowstone National Park as well as parts of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, with caps varying based on the population a given area.
The federal plan – which would have a fine rule set later this year – would allot Wyoming 58 percent of the total bears that can be killed, 34 percent for Montana, and 8 percent for Idaho. States, too, are required to have a bear management plan in place.
Shortly after the draft’s release, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks issued draft regulations that include spring and fall hunting seasons in seven districts near Yellowstone’s borders. Referred to as a Grizzly Bear Management Unit, each district would maintain a quota on the number of bears to be killed.
The state rules state that licenses will be restricted based on quotas. Hunters with a license, too, will need to wait for seven years before getting another one.
"This is a first attempt at hopefully a management option that we’re going to have here down the road," said Ron Aasheim, spokesperson of Montana FWP.
There will be no state hunting until the final proposal, which is deemed inclusive of the states’ hunting programs, is released.
Grizzly bears were delisted in 2007 for a brief period but were afterwards reinstated following a lawsuit. A similar conflict could be brewing: one side arguing that bear populations haven’t revive adequately, and another side pinning its hopes on revising sport hunting of the bears.
Impending Threats and Challenges
There’s the argument that grizzlies are simply becoming more visible to humans because they are looking for food that is no longer found in Greater Yellowstone. There has been a sharp drop in whitebark pine nuts due to climate change and in cutthroat trout – both primary food sources for the bears.
The loss of these food sources have driven grizzlies to search for others such as garbage, elk carcasses, and livestock, which often lead them to a conflict with humans.
Yale University professor David Mattson told Christina Science Monitor that these bears are quite known to reproduce slowly, noting the critical role of female bear mortality.
Sierra Club’s Bonnie Rice further argued that vulnerability is still present – 61 bears, Rice noted, perished in 2015 even without hunting.
Also from Sierra Club, campaign director Dan Chu warned that the bears’ isolation and “hostile state policies” are other areas of concern.
"They remain isolated from other bear populations, a disconnect which leads to inbreeding and all the problems associated with a lack of genetic diversity," he wrote in Huffington Post. "They also face hostile state policies which focus on reducing bear numbers instead of implementing proven coexistence measures, and would allow sport trophy hunts of grizzly bears."
In addition, over 50 Native American tribes – who consider grizzly bears sacred – have passed resolutions that oppose delisting. The great bear symbolizes the earth’s very spirit.
Researchers are employing relatively new methods to assess grizzly populations, as data on wildlife composition are quite limited due to difficulties in measurements and the length of time necessary for measuring individuals within that population.
Photo: Michael Whyte | Flickr