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Grizzly season?

Big Fin

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I follow these grizzly bear issues with great interest.

I was one of 15 people, five each from MT, WY, and ID appointed by the Governors of those states to work with the USFWS on drafting the Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, commonly called the Management Plan. We met for two days every quarter, over the span of almost three years. When we were done, the Governors' Roundtable had unanimously agreed to what this plan should look like, thanks to a ton of input by the Federal Grizzly Bear biologists.

I can say that none of the groups currently litigating the delisting ruling of 2011 have anywhere near the scientific expertise of the bear biologists working for the USFWS, the USGS, or the state agencies of MT, WY, and ID. Over their morning breakfast, those agency biologists forget more about grizzly bear around YNP than the litigators or any judge could ever hope to learn.

When each Governor appointed the five people from their state, each were asked to represent a constituency. In Montana we had a rancher, a timber guy, a guy who worked for an environmental group, a state legislator, and me. The Governor told me I was to represent the interest of Montana hunters.

The other states sent five people of differing backgrounds, but none were told to represent the hunting community, which struck me rather strange, given how much hunting is part of life in WY and ID. Fortunately, those from the ranching, timber, and legislative perspectives were most often advocates for the cause of hunting I was asked to represent, as I was allied with their causes in most instances.

Much of the first meeting was spent setting the side boards of how this diverse committee would come to unanimous consent. At the second meeting we were instructed to come with one issue that would be a "drop dead" issue for us; an issue that if included/excluded from the final management plan, we would not vote for the plan.

It was discussion/debate and agreement/disagreement of these "drop dead" topics that guided a lot of what the final Management Plan would look like. Much of the plan was based on the science these biologists had and their projections of what would impact bear numbers. The biologists were not instructed to bring us a draft plan for hunters, rather a draft plan to keep bears off the ESA once they were delisted. It was up to us to decide how hunting fit into this final equation.

I consulted with some wildlife attorneys, some agency folks who had experience with Endangered Species issues. I asked them how a plan like this will eventually accommodate hunting under state management control. Some pointed me to instances where legal claims were brought forth under the ESA because the recovery plan did not specifically identify hunting as an expected management tool. I was thankful for the insight these folks provided to me; in the case of the attorneys, at no cost for their time and expertise.

I told the committee that my "drop dead" issue would be that state management under delisting would be expected to include the hunting of grizzly bears. If the final plan did not specifically allow for hunting when states were handed management control, the committee would not get my vote and we would not have the unanimous agreement that was required, per our first meeting on ground rules and sideboards. I knew that would cause some heart burn for some on the Roundtable. By the time we wrapped up on day two of the second series of meetings, the "drop dead" issues were sorted out. Hunting of grizzly bears would be an expected management tool under delisting.

If you read the Conservation Strategy, it specifically identifies that hunting of bears will be part of the state management plans. The litigators will have a hard time winning because of hunting, per se. They may convince a judge that hunting will result in human caused mortality that is beyond what is allowed for in the plan and therefore delisting is not warranted. But, to do that, they must address every source of human caused mortality, such as YNP visitation, vehicles deaths, self-defense, euthanization of problem bears in YNP, etc.

All the biologists involved in this plan fully expect hunting, however limited, to be part of state management. None of them are/were of the opinion that hunting will endanger the Yellowstone Grizzly population. The serial litigators sent their paid employees, many being attorneys, to attend these public meetings and lobby for their causes. The biologists were not swayed, nor were the Roundtable members.

It did strike me that every hunter, rancher, logger, small business owner who lobbied me was attending on their own dime and taking a day away from work. Yet every environmental person who lobbied me was there as part of their salaried employment.

From their comments on this plan and the interaction I had with them, the litigators will continue to attack what is a very good Conservation Plan for bears. Just too much donor money and organizational profile at stake for them to stand down. Expect the litigators to try to expand the Primary Conservation Area (PCA) further from Yellowstone. As bears expand in population and geography, they get in trouble with people. When they get in trouble, the bear usually dies. Deaths outside the PCA do not count toward the mortality limits called for in the plan. By expanding the geographic range of the PCA, the litigators would then increase the mortality count that is used. That would be very bad for this plan, as we all know that when bears expand to marginal habitats with greater human activity, their mortality will rise.

If you are interested in this issue, I would strongly suggest your contact your Congressional delegation and pressure them to support the USFWS ruling that Yellowstone bears have long since recovered. That the USFWS are the trained people to decide the future for Grizzly Bears an in the professional judgement of the USFWS, state management plans will insure the bear is not endangered. That is essentially what the USFWS ruled when they recommended delisting of these bears in 2011.

As we saw with the wolf issue, these drive-by litigators will never be satisfied and will always have a sympathetic judge in their pocket. The USFWS has proven time and again that their science is the best out there. They have refuted every claim the litigators have convinced judges as threatening to the future of Yellowstone grizzly bears. Yet, we still do not have state control. I suspect it will require Congressional action that will take this issue out of the courts, the same as happened in 2011 with wolves in MT/ID and the same as we tried to get last month for wolves in MI, WI, MN, and WY.

And when the Yellowstone grizzly bear issue is finally settled, either in court or by Congress, the same pressure will be required for grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide population of WA, northern ID, and NW MT. As it will for the Mexican wolf in AZ and NM.

Whether hunters like it or not, the game is now being played in the court rooms and in the halls of Congress. We can complain about it no longer being played at the state wildlife Commission level, but doing so will only cause us to be on the outside looking in. By accepting that we need to be politically active and bringing pressure to bear in courts and in Congress, we start to form a line of defense against what has heretofore been an open field for the anti-hunting crowd who likes to disguise themselves as conservation advocates.

Sorry for the long yarn, but if 20 years of political activism on these issues has shown me one important point, it is how hunters are way behind the curve when it comes to playing "ESA football" in the political/judicial arena. Hopefully we get better at it and start scoring a few touchdowns.

You will hear a podcast about some of this in the next month, with the former Threatened and Endangered Species Specialist from MT FWP, Arnie Dood.
 

Tex_MT

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Thanks for the information and for your efforts to support the delisting. I'll look forward to listening to the podcast about this issue as well.
 

Nameless Range

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Excellent info Randy.

Does anyone have any input on this line from the referenced article:

The deal puts no limits on grizzly bear hunting outside a 19,300-square-mile management zone centered on Yellowstone National Park.

Does that mean that outside the management zone bears will basically be managed the same way coyotes are? If so, that will be a tough sell to the public.
 

sbhooper

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Excellent info Randy.

Does anyone have any input on this line from the referenced article:



Does that mean that outside the management zone bears will basically be managed the same way coyotes are? If so, that will be a tough sell to the public.

No. It means that they can alot the permits as the bear population dictates. Wyoming did the carte blanch thing with the wolves and got it shoved down their throats. I think they probably have learned from that.
 

Nameless Range

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Thanks sbhooper. I think it would be quite the statement of successful conservation to be able to hunt griz once again. What does that mean for Crown of the Continent Griz? Would they be part of the population that is considered "outside the zone". Do they have their own zone?
 

JLS

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Thanks sbhooper. I think it would be quite the statement of successful conservation to be able to hunt griz once again. What does that mean for Crown of the Continent Griz? Would they be part of the population that is considered "outside the zone". Do they have their own zone?

The northern Rockies is its own distinct populations segment.
 

Nameless Range

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In terms of population areas, it appears The Interagency Grizzly Bear Comittee has 5 Grizzly Ecosystem Areas that intersect Montana (GYA, Northern Rockies, Cabinet-Yaak, and Bitterroot, Northern Continental Divide)

I guess my question is, if this deal puts no limits on hunting bears outside the GYA zone, where could I find this administrative boundary? And if the Crown bears are a different distinct population, under what management strategy will they be and where does that boundary lie? Theoretically there will be this "non-zone" between them where no limits on hunting bears will exist. It's not clear to me.
 

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Ben Lamb

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The delisting effort is focused on two DPS - the Yellowstone & the NCDE. In this instance, we're only talking about the Yellowstone and how states will manage bears.

The hunting regs would only apply to this DPS and do not take in to account any other DPS. As your map shows, those areas in the red are the population that will encompass the hunting, and it will be up to the state to develop the regulations and areas that are open to harvest as well as the number of animals allocated. The other populations will have to go through a similar process when it comes to delisting, and in the case of the NCDE, it's all Montana, so we will have a different management regime based on the biology and science of that population.

The litigants are suing on a couple of different issues, but their biggest claim is that you cannot delist distinct population segments if the broader population has not met recovery goals. I'm not sure how that plays out in court, but it's not been going well for us in the Midwest with wolves.

The intent of the DPS is to manage populations that historically have distinct ranges, etc rather than the "in the entirety of their historic range," which provides a lot more flexibility to people who have to live with these animals.

If the litigants are successful in stopping delisting, then the ESA is in for a lot of tough times.
 
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mulecreek

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Rock Springs, WY
Big Fin,

Was the potential of not having a hunting season for grizz ever discussed in your meetings? While I support hunting as management of grizzlies 100% I wonder if removing hunting from the equation would speed up delisting? I am not sure just thinking out loud. To be honest we don't have to hunt them to still have state management. A decent number of grizz are removed as it is without hunting. I think it was 47 in 2015 alone. Having grizz delisted in the lower 48 is a benefit even without a hunting season so I wonder if the idea of taking that hot button issue out of the equation was ever discussed. I doubt that it would make it a done deal but curious if anyone thought it would have made it a faster process. Thanks for the insights, this is a fascinating process and thank you for your efforts to support hunters.
 

iowabuck

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Jan 10, 2014
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Great topic, but let's not beat around the bush about who we are what we stand for and that is our legacy as hunters and Americans with the right to be heard. I don't think we should be extremist but firm and assertive. Stand for what you believe in or fall to the latter. Anti hunters stand for their cause, so should we as hunters loud and proud. My opinion leave hunting management on the table including in delisting. Thanks
 

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