Wyoming Is In Charge of Its Grizzlies

by Mike Koshmrl/Jackson Hole News and Guide | AUGUST 1, 2017

Wyoming, Idaho and Montana can now call themselves grizzly bear managers.

Washington, D.C., stopped officially calling the shots for the species on Monday, as jurisdiction of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzlies was turned over to the states. The transfer of management and the expiration of Endangered Species Act protections signifies the end of more than four decades of federal oversight, save for a failed “delisting” attempt a decade ago.

For grizzlies bears on the landscape the jurisdiction shift won’t change much in the near future, said Brian Nesvik, chief warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“If you’re a grizzly bear who’s standing out on a big, rocky talus slope in western Wyoming,” Nesvik said, “there’s no change in the short term.”

But for state biologists who have long assisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in grizzly management, there will be some changes. Nesvik used aerial monitoring for grizzly bears as an example.

“If tomorrow the Game and Fish wanted to experiment with the use of [infrared] technology,” he said, “we could do that knowing that we would have some ability to determine how that information would be used down the road.”

There will be additional “flexibilty,” he said, in dealing with grizzlies that are killing livestock or caught up in other types of conflict.

“I don’t think that we’re interested in a hard-and-fast rule, like the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ deal,” Nesvik said. “There are some situations when it might not warrant removal, even after three strikes, just because of the circumstances.”

Conversely, he said, a stand-alone serious wrongdoing may be cause for a griz to be killed under other circumstances.

Delisting of the Yellowstone area’s approximately 700 grizzlies, which form an isolated, island population, was signaled by Fish and Wildlife in June, when federal officials published a final rule in the Federal Register. A 30-day transition period followed that and delayed the rule’s effect.

Other populations of grizzly bears south of the Canadian border, such as in Montana’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Washington’s North Cascades, remain protected.

Federal officials will require the three Greater Yellowstone states to count their grizzlies and amass other demographic data for the next five years.

An agreement the three states struck with Fish and Wildlife imposes strict limits on human-caused sources of grizzly mortality, including hunting, which is to cease if the population dips below 600. Game and Fish will not push for a 2017 hunt season, but does plan to start a formal public discourse about hunting sometime “in the next six months,” Nesvik said.

Several advocacy groups and a coalition of Native American tribes have all told Fish and Wildlife they intend to sue.

Jackson resident and wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen is one of the litigants, having signed on to a lawsuit that will be argued by Earthjustice.

“I have no faith in the state to do the job correctly,” Mangelsen said. “Game and Fish will not manage grizzlies for the people of the U.S. and around the world, I guarantee you.”

Nesvik said Wyoming is committed to managing grizzlies responsibly for the public trust.

“This is a great opportunity for the state of Wyoming — meaning Game and Fish and the people — to have the ability to manage this species,” he said. “It’s a good thing.”

Originally published here.